HAY FEVER Nothe Fort Weymouth

Blackmore Vale & The Stour and Avon Review by Jane Norman

Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, Wessex Actors Company on tour

There is nothing a British open-air theatre audience loves more than braving the elements, especially in mid-June, with picnics in hand and suitably attired in fleeces and waterproofs – and an eye on the sky and the BBC weather app.

The weather forecast predicted said rain clouds would clear by 6pm over Weymouth’s Nothe Fort, and clear they did, although nobody made a move to remove their fleeces…

The audience had gathered for Wessex Actors Company’s Hay Fever, Noel Cowards 1920s comic masterpiece.

In 1924, Coward, still in his early twenties had spent a weekend at the house of the actor Laurette Taylor, which inspired him to write the play
in just three days. It went on to premiere in London in 1925, winning high praise from audiences and critics.

The play is set in an English country house, and deals with the Bliss family – four eccentric, self-centred hosts who each invite a guest for the weekend. Judith Bliss a recently retired stage actress, her husband David, a self-absorbed novelist, and their two equally unconventional children, Simon and Sorel. What ensues is a disastrous house party where the hosts treat their guests abominably – taking great delight in
playing games on them.

Directed by Virginia Harrington, she has done a very good job with a popular classic, and the production goes at a pace.

The company has brought together a first rate ensemble with Lotte Fletcher-Jonk delightfully playing Judith Bliss as the retired actress who somehow manages to turn each moment of her life into a theatrical melodrama.

Her offspring, Simon and Sorel, (Sean Beaumont and Harriet Webb) clearly would have benefited from better parenting, although its far too late now having picked up a plethora of outlandish behaviour.

The Bliss family are not particularly well named, given their behaviour – nor are good hosts – and you know ‘trouble’ lies ahead as each guest suffers a barrage of embarrassment – until the hosts drive their guests, unnoticed from the house, while they are engaged in yet another family row…

The cast is fabulous, including Peter Watson, Carole Allen, Lizzi Briscoe, Peter Beebee, Jan Smiles and Nathan Linsdell, who clearly enjoy their outlandish characters – giving just enough fizz, frivolity and comic timing that had the audience laughing.

To find out where Hay Fever is on near you go to www.wessex-actors-company.co.uk

Jane Norman for the Blackmore Vale

Review: Private Lives, Wessex Actors Company, Regent Centre, Christchurch

Reviewed by the Stour and Avon Magazine

Noel Coward wrote his “intimate comedy” Private Lives to focus on the complex relationships of a divorced couple and the Wessex Actors Company chose the light-hearted play for their Summer Tour. With many famous names – Coward himself included – having been attracted to the roles in the past, the talented quartet of actors from WAC rose to the challenge and commanded the stage throughout.

Set in the 1930s, Amanda who is on honeymoon with her second husband Victor discovers that they are in the same hotel as Elyot – to whom she was previously married – and his new wife Sibyl. The divorced pair fall back in love, run away to Amanda’s flat in Paris and live happily ever after – or do they? The twists and turns of the plot are accompanied by the music of the era with Someday I’ll Find You striking exactly the right note and elegant costumes doing the same.

Beverley Beck making her debut with WAC is perfect as the devious and manipulative Amanda, particularly excelling in the changes of mood from passionate to physically fiery with Elyot. He is played beautifully by Jay Westaway who is patronising and a bully, yet still alluring to Amanda. The pivotal scene where they realise they are still in love is mesmerising as are subsequent moments where their differences surface again with dramatic consequences. What a splendid interpretation of the insecure and childlike Sibyl by Marie Bushell, she is totally convincing and so is Toby Trimby as the rather weak Victor. Very expressive facially and particularly compelling in the final scene, he and the other actors achieve the Coward style of staccato delivery to perfection. A very wordy play but every line is heard and tight direction by Lynn Richell and production by Jo Puttick ensures that the action moves along at a fast pace. The aim of the Wessex Actors Company is to bring exciting and innovative theatre to the South Coast and they have certainly done that with Private Lives.

There are outdoor performances at Wareham Rugby Club at 1pm and 6pm on Saturday 12th July and at Upton Country House Walled Garden at 6pm on Sundays 13th and 20th July. On Friday 18th July curtain up at the Mowlem Theatre, Swanage (Box Office 01929 422239) at 7.30pm, the Exchange Theatre, Sturminster Newton at 7.30pm on Friday 25th (01258 475137) and the Barrington Theatre, Ferndown (01202 894858) at 7.30pm on Saturday 26th. Finally, outdoors at Poundbury Farm House at 1pm and 6pm on Sunday 27th July.

Tickets for open-air performances can be booked on 07771 691603, the website or at local Information Centres; audiences are invited to picnic an hour before performances start. Details of all performances on: www.wessex-actors-company.co.uk

Pat Scott

Stour and Avon Magazine

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The Drama Point review: Wessex Actors Company, Private Lives

The Cast Private Lives 2014. Victor, Amanda, Sybil and Elyot

The Cast Private Lives 2014. Victor, Amanda, Sybil and Elyot

A humorous showing of Private lives, written by Noël Coward and performed by Wessex Actors Company, with a fantastic setting. Coward’s witty script felt the perfect choice for the ensemble of actors involved. They performed with great skill and dexterity, offering a thrilling and entertaining show. Private Lives was directed by Lyn Richell and produced by Jo Puttick.

The play starts with a view into the lives of Elyot and Sibyl. We see passions a plenty with these two love birds as sparks of jealousy erupt from Sibyl who clearly worries about Elyot’s former partner. Marie Bushell’s portrayal of Sybil was energetic and fast. With a range of emotions to portray throughout the play, she does a fabulous job of drawing the audience into the slightly chaotic feelings of Sybil. Equally as rash to act and speak, yet devious and sinister, Elyot was played with charm and fun. Able to turn the character from a sophisticated reserved man, into a brash, angry and impatient manic on a whim; first time professional actor Jay Westaway played Elyot with hilarity and strength.

On a balcony opposite, we see Amanda, Elyot’s ex-wife, and Victor. We find out that these two couples are on their honeymoon at the same time. It doesn’t take long for A flame that had long died between Elyot and Amanda to re-ignite and take us on a romantic, bumpy road between newlyweds and old lovers. Toby Trimby played Victor very well. The anger his character feels must be a challenge to maintain while the others characters are a lot more emotionally varied. Where others may have suffered here, Toby shined in the role. Amanda was dealt with fabulously by Beverly Beck; she suited the role down to the ground executing witty responses with great timing.

Overall, this play is a success. The audience was laughing out loud and the play was performed faultlessly. The direction was great, and the costumes were exquisite.

We can’t recommend seeing this play enough. It was well paced, funny, and very entertaining. Try to catch it outdoors if you can, as the atmosphere at Kingston Lacy was bubbling with excitement.

You can see tour dates here at our performances post.

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Do More South Coast Review: Private Lives at Kingston Lacy

Private Lives Photo by Heather Willoughby

Private Lives Photo by Heather Willoughby

“The heightened frustration between the characters caused laugh out loud responses from the audience and the witty dialogue was incredibly well delivered and received.”

On Saturday afternoon, our Becky headed to the beautiful gardens of Kingston Lacy for an afternoon of frivolity as Wessex Actors Company brought to life the intimate comedy Private Lives, produced by Jo Puttick and directed by Lyn Richell.

Written by Noel Coward, Private Lives focuses on divorced couple Amanda and Elyot, who find that they are honeymooning with their new spouses in adjacent rooms in the same hotel. After discovering that they still love each other, the couple run away together to Amanda’s flat in Paris, where eventually, their respective partners catch up with them and chaos runs riot.

This originally thought too risqué play was presented to the audience with excellent comedic timing and wonderful chemistry between actors Beverley Beck, Marie Bushell, Jay Westaway and Toby Trimby.

Considering the small scale of the production, the costume and set were incredibly authentic and perfectly in keeping with the 1930s, which was magnified by the excellent atmospheric music playing in the background.

On many occasions, the heightened frustrations between the characters caused laugh out loud responses from the audience and the witty dialogue was incredibly well delivered and received.

The Wessex Actors Company tour continues to:
Christchurch Regent Centre – Friday 11 July
Wareham Rugby Club – Saturday 12 July
Upton Country House’s Walled Garden – Sunday 13 & 20 July
The Exchange Theatre (Sturminster Newton) – Friday 25 July
Barrington Centre (Ferndown) – Saturday 26 July
Poundbury Farm House – Sunday 27 July

You can book tickets by calling 07771 691 603 or via the company’s website wessex-actors-company.co.uk

Photo: Heather Willoughby

Posted on: July 7, 2014
By: Becky Bye
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Review for Private Lives: Bournemouth Echo

Noel Coward’s deliciously wicked romp through the trials and tribulations of marriage rarely fails to elicit belly laughs in buckets.

In the experienced hands of director Lyn Richell, the Wessex Actors Company savour Coward’s gift of a script with relish, and in the delightful setting of Kingston Lacy gardens, this show bubbles pleasurably along like champagne on a summer’s evening.

Beverly Beck is divine as the provocative Amanda, delivering her lines with a sensual, offhand aplomb, while counterpart Jay Westaway is gleefully amusing as the irascible Elyot. Meanwhile, Marie Bushell’s portrayal of distressed damsel-esque Sibyl is highly entertaining and Toby Trimby also presents a wonderfully blustered, gentlemanly Victor.

Credible costumes, authentic props and well-timed music all contribute to the heady atmosphere of the delightfully hedonistic 1930s high society in which the play is set.

While marquees used to support smart costume and scene changes could have been more in keeping with the era, this minimalist set approach allowed the natural surroundings of Kingston Lacy’s landscapes to shine.

Owing to the nature of outdoor theatre where picnicking is encouraged, those hard of hearing would be advised to arrive early at outdoor performances to be seated nearer to the front, while more creative use of levels would have enhanced the performance for those seated nearer the back.

All those who enjoy a pacey escapade in social satire delivered with finesse will not fail to enjoy this production.

Private Lives runs until Sunday, July 27, at various beauty spots and theatres throughout Dorset. Those interested in tickets and more information are invited to visit www.wessex-actors-company.co.uk.

Ludicrous love story played out perfectly

Private Lives The Cast Photo

Private Lives The Cast: Elyot & Amanda, Sybil & Victor

Dorset Echo Friday July 4th 2014

Noel Coward’s Private Lives at Upton Country Park, Poole

Noel Coward’s comedy classic is getting on for 90-years-old but the sparkle still shines through in this ludicrous love story that is decidedly different.

A divorced couple on honeymoon with their new partners find themselves occupying adjacent rooms in a French hotel, a scenario that needs a high degree of acting talent and a requirement that Wessex Actors Company supplies.

The Dorset-based group’s outdoor production is fast-paced and lively as Noel Coward’s comic version of the average marriage weaves it’s way from fondles to fights and smiles to squabbles, the four actors making the most of an exuberant script set in 1930.

The good-looking cast comprises Beverley Beck and Jay Westaway as the divorcees with Toby Trimby and Marie Bushell as their respective spouses whose romantic holidays take a turn for the worse when the foursome discover that love is war and marriage is manic.

And if the dialogue is a bit dated, the plot still works as battles rage and bickering between the couples reaches new heights.

The touring production will be visiting a number of Dorset venues throughout July including Swanage, Wareham and finally at Poundbury on July 27th and can be recommended for a lighthearted summer evening’s entertainment that is produced by Jo Puttick and is intelligently directed by Lyn Richell.

Marion Cox

Dorset Theatre Reviews - graphic




The Walled Garden, Upton House


The cast - Private Lives

The Characters of Noel Coward’s Private Lives – Sybil & Elyot, Amanda & Victor

This company was formed in 2010 by Jo Puttick with the objective of bringing first class theatre to a wider audience. The intention was to concentrate on both modern and traditional classics and, using professional actors, present them in a variety of venues around Dorset, both in theatres and outdoors. The choice for this year is Private Lives and the performance we saw was in the beautiful walled garden at Upton House.

Noel Coward first presented this play in 1930, directing it himself as well as playing Elyot. He had first conceived the idea whilst recovering from a bout of influenza and had then written it in four days. He persuaded Gertrude Lawrence to play Amanda, Adrienne Allen was Sybil and a young Laurence Olivier took the part of Victor. The play was almost cancelled as the Lord Chamberlain took exception to the love scenes in the second act saying that it was far too risqué because the characters were divorced and married to other people. It was only due to Coward’s personal visit to St James’s Palace to plead his case that the production was finally permitted.

Since then there have been numerous stage productions as well as on film and television. It is so well known that we find ourselves waiting for our favourite lines like “Very flat, Norfolk”. Nevertheless there is always something new to notice and Coward’s words have a perennial freshness. The story focuses on a divorced couple who, while honeymooning with their new
spouses, find that they are staying in adjacent rooms in the same hotel. It is a case of two people who cannot live together and cannot be apart. The first act features the famous double balconies of the hotel and the rest of the play is set in Amanda’s flat in Paris.

This director, Lyn Richell, chose to run Acts II and III without a break, cleverly allowing Sybil and Victor to tidy up and rearrange the set after the departure of Amanda and Elyot. She was blessed with a very strong and hard-working cast. Beverley Beck, who played Amanda brought an air of worldly sophistication to the part yet at the same time switched from adoring wife to bad-tempered shrew. In the words of the play she was “Far too knowing”. This contrasted with Marie Bushell’s innocent, ingenue Sibyl. Jay Westaway, in his first professional role gave Elyot a worldly, somewhat pompous, selfish air. Toby Trimby, the only member of the cast to have appeared in last year’s WAC’s production, brought to the part of Victor a slightly bemused air as he gradually realised what was going on. The whole cast kept up a good pace which is needed in this comedy of manners (or bad manners). They also spoke the words naturally and not in the ultra-exaggerated tones sometimes used to play Coward’s work. Congratulations to them also for their good projection and volume, not easy when there was quite a strong wind blowing and the leaves were rustling in the trees. What a joy to be able to hear all the words clearly and how different from the muttering and mumbling we have to endure on much television these days.

Altogether this was an enjoyable evening summed up by the line from the play “Honeymooning is a very overrated experience”

Marion Watson
Dorset Theatre Reviews

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Scene One – Review


IT’S that time of year again – the time for folding chairs, umbrellas, mozzie-repellent and sweaters as local theatre takes advantage of Dorset’s many stunning settings and moves into the Great Outdoors. The first al fresco offering of the year (for me, anyway) was this production directed by Lyn Richell. In some ways it is a curious choice because what is basically a drawing-room piece would not seem to be appropriate for the wide open spaces. Yet the production succeeds, due in equal part to Noël Coward’s scintillating writing and the efforts of four extremely talented actors, who cope admirably with the challenge of playing only a few feet from the audience and on the same level.

Although Elyot would probably like to think he is, his divorced wife, Amanda, is in many ways the mainspring of the play. Here she is in the experienced and capable hands of Beverley Beck, who has a natural stage presence, even when the stage is grass. She has the majority of the best, cattiest lines and delivers them beautifully. Amanda is more interesting than just catty lines, though, and Beverley Beck brings out with subtle skill how torn she is between caring but dull Victor and exciting but impossible Elyot.

Sibyl, Elyot’s second wife, can be a rather colourless character, but the highly promising Marie Bushell extracts what she can from the part. She plays it as a sweet and attractive ingénue with her own brand of sex appeal as different as could be from that of the apparently more sophisticated Amanda, but the audience both believes her and sympathises with her when she sticks up for herself, whether to Elyot or to Victor.

Victor, Amanda’s second husband, is Mr Nice Guy and the actor playing him, Toby Trimby, is clearly a nice guy, but he is equally credible when playing angry or puzzled. Physically, he is rather stiff on stage, which may be an element in his interpretation of the part – it would be interesting to see him in something less mannered.

The actor playing Elyot has a problem. Does he aim for an imitation of Noël Coward, with whom the part will always be associated, or for something different? Jay Westaway aims for the second alternative, with mixed success. It is mixed because at the beginning of the play, he treats Sibyl and her worries about Amanda like an overbearing bully, which tends to alienate the audience, rather than with Cowardesque amused cynicism. Having said that, he brings out his charm in his scenes with Amanda, which are genuinely touching, not least when he first declares his re-awakened love for her; it is a considerable achievement in such a massive space to convince us of his sincerity with just a half-turn towards her and some tiny gestures.

By contrast, the splendid moment when Elyot and Amanda first realise that they have adjoining balconies falls rather flat, but it is difficult to tell whether this is down to the actors, the direction or the minimal set.

One of the problems with ‘Private Lives’ is that the first half shows Coward at his sparkling best and the second half is rather pedestrian by comparison. Pace in a production is always good, but the first half is taken if anything a little too quickly – it is not sufficiently ‘jagged with sophistication’, to quote the play itself, and lacks that essential Coward quality of brittleness – whereas the second half drags slightly. But overall this is a most enjoyable production which is playing at nine different Dorset locations between 28 June and 27 July: details at www.wessex-actors-company.co.uk.

Scene One Reviews

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The Fine Times Recorder – Review

Private Lives, Wessex Actors Company on tour

The Characters of Noel Coward's Private Lives - photo

The Characters of Noel Coward’s Private Lives – Sybil & Elyot, Amanda & Victor

NOEL Coward’s classic marital comedy Private Lives retains its appeal and enchantment 84 years on from its first appearance, only proving what a keen observer of human nature The Master was.

The setting (in Deauville and Paris) and the language may be a bit dated, but the more people change, the more they stay the same.

Amanda and Elyot have provided the exemplars of the irresistible love-hate relationship for generations, and in Lyn Richell’s tight production for Wessex Actors, it’s style and laughter all the way.

Three years ago, after a brief and fiery marriage, Elyot and Amanda Chase divorced, he setting off on a round-the-world journey and she taking solace from minor flirtations at various house parties.

We meet them again on their wedding night – Amanda to the insufferably pompous Victor and Elyot to the devotedly determined Sibyl. And as luck would have it, they are booked into adjoining rooms in an hotel in Deauville.

Once they realise the fateful coincidence, their path is clear … running away with each other again.

Their flight to Amanda’s Parisian flat quickly brings a return to the passionate bickering of their earlier relationship, but they imagine themselves to be older and wiser, and do their best to avoid the leap into misery. Before long the new spouses arrive, and as the long playing records are smashed and the coffee turns sour in the pot, it’s time for another getaway.

In the original, the first act is set on the balconies of the hotel, and the second two in the flat. That could cause problems for a company whose touring takes them to a variety of open-air venues, but, thanks to a cleverly devised set with authentic period props carefully gathered by Eve Puttick, and costumes from BSP Wardrobe Hire (recently set up by graduates of the Bournemouth University costume department) the atmosphere is quickly created and maintained.

Running for a bare 120 minutes means cutting out the French maid, but essentially this is a four hander and relies on chemistry between not only Elyot and Amanda but Sibyl and Victor too.

In this Wessex Actors production, Toby Trimby returns (from last summer’s Earnest) as a youthful but oh-so-English Victor, and Marie Bushell is a lovely Sibyl

Jay Westaway, a former Yeovil student actor and most recently seen in Arts University Bournemouth’s Oh What a Lovely War, has just the right panache and insouciance as Elyot, and the sparks between him and Beverly Beck’s feisty Amanda are totally convincing from their first moment on stage together.

And I have rarely seen the last few minutes of the third act played to better or more hilarious effect.

It’s a hugely entertaining production of a wonderful play, and well worth the journey to see.

Fine Times Recorder

The tour continues at Swanage’s Mowlem Theatre on 4th and 18th July, Kingston Lacy House on 5th July, Christchurch Regent Centre on 11th July, Wareham Rugby Club on 12th, Upton Park’s Walled Garden on 13th and 20th July, Sturminster Newton Exchange on 25th July, the Barrington Centre in Ferndown on 26th July and closes at the Poundbury Farm House on Sunday 27th July – so you can take your pick of open air and inside.

For more information visit the website, www.wessex-actors-company.co.uk