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New Era Players - October Double Bill 2016

27th to 29th October 2016

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Dog days and radio times

New Era Players' double bill includes a John Buchan thriller and a canine comedy

New Era Players: Alternative plays, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Thursday October 27, to Saturday October 29

New Era Players presented an intriguing double bill for their autumn production. John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps started out as a novel and has had many adaptions for the stage, a comedy playing for years at the Criterion Theatre, London, and a thrilling classic film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Joe Landry has set his version of the story as 'a live radio play', complete with hanging microphones and applause cue lights and a special effects table, ably operated by the Foley sound artist (David Fox). The cast sit around in chairs with scripts in their hands and the audience are welcomed to the 'Wash Common Radio Studio' as the 'On Air' sign is illuminated.

Graham Salter is the splendid continuity announcer, ensuring that the broadcast proceeds in a timely manner and also plays the Memory Man in a music hall act.

This ripping murder-mystery is well-known. The unflappable Richard Hannay, perfectly captured by Keith Phillips, is visiting London. It's the 1930s and there is an air of conspiracy, spies, and foreign agents as the country prepares for war.

He meets Annabella Schmidt (Cheryl Nichol), who is being chased by the agents and offers her shelter for the night. When she is discovered murdered in the morning, Hannay becomes a fugitive and sets off to solve the mystery and prove his innocence.

He embarks on an epic train journey to Scotland pursued by the police (Gareth Capner) and seeks the help of a fellow traveller Victoria (Georgina Gale), with dire and often hilarious consequences.

Hannay finally meets his nemesis, the evil Professor (Richard Colley), and the mystery is finally revealed.

Roger Fellows directs this spiffing story with assurance and keeps the pace flowing throughout.

The second play, A Dog's Life by Pam Valentine, is a complete contrast. The mainly young cast perform with gusto. The play is set in a rehoming centre for dogs and is told from the perspective of the canines, who are desperate to find new owners.

The relationship between the dogs is both extremely funny and also heart-rending sad. When the warden (Alexander Greenwood-Forkin) shows a prospective new owner (Georgina Gale) around the dogs home their spirits rise but no one is chosen.

Ben (Stephen Holcomb) has been in the shelter the longest. He's a clever old mongrel who fondly remembers his life with his homeless owner and the loving bond they had with each other.

In contrast, the young, excitable puppy Ginger, enthusiastically played by Henry Chandler, is learning the ropes and is constantly asking, as he discovers every new thing, "Is it food?".

The German shepherd Fritz (Stan Dooley) is very much an army dog who constantly rows with the French poodle Fifi, played with a lovely French accent by Robyn Luke.

The interaction between them is a joy to watch and they capture the individual dogs' characters superbly and the ending brings a lump to the throat.

Sensitively directed by Pippa Higgins and Patrick Lintin, making their directorial debut, this moving play is both entertaining and thought provoking.