Sunday, 8 September 2019

Suddenly At Home by Francis Durbridge – The Apollo Players



Graham Pountney, Carol Simpson and Helen Reading in a scene from ‘Suddenly At Home’.
Photo by Paul Jennings


Audiences at the Apollo were treated to a classic Durbridge suspense-filled thriller: not so much a whodunnit, more a ‘willhegetawaywithit’ with added plot twists and surprises along the way. So I will try not to spoil any of those surprises, since the play runs until Saturday 14th September, giving you a chance to see for yourself.

Suffice it to say that Glenn Howard, a womanising charmer married to the conveniently very rich Maggie, has a somewhat devious mind. The plot against Maggie becomes evident very quickly, as we meet her friend Sheila and innocent sister Helen.

Anyone who has been involved in theatre will know that at times there is as much drama unfolding offstage as on, and this has clearly been the case for the Apollo Players who were faced with the rare problem of an actor unavoidably having to withdraw from the show – and the lead role too! Happily, the role of Glenn was filled by Graham Pountney, a familiar name on the Island, and he captures Glenn’s ability to charm everyone into either entering into the plot with him or believing he could never have carried out such a crime. If you did not know the Apollo team you might have thought having a professionally trained actor of over 40 years’ experience onstage would make the rest of the cast look like, well, amateurs – but not a bit of it! The newcomer fits seamlessly into the play and the other actors shine even brighter for it.

Chris Turvey brings out the character of Maggie, sociable and unsuspecting of her husband’s intentions, and Holly Squires as Helen skilfully enables the audience to identify with her as she, like us, gradually realises that things in the Howard household are not quite what they seem, and she struggles to understand and come to terms with what has happened.

Helen Reading portrays the complex character of Sheila perfectly: without giving too much away I can only say that as each aspect of Sheila’s character unfolds, Helen’s acting experience and talent ensures that the audience are captivated by what she might do next….

Equally skilful at showing different sides of a character is Carol Simpson as the au pair Ruth, while another character about whom we may change our mind during the play is Sam Blaine, Maggie’s ex, played with understated threat by Nick Turvey.

The cast is completed by two policemen – or are they? Certainly Inspector Appleton (Garry Smith) thinks he’s in charge of the investigation, but Remick (Mark Duffus) also has some searching questions to ask.

However, like every character in this complex thriller, they may not be exactly what they seem – and if you think you can predict the final twists in the plot, you are in for a surprise as well as an evening of great entertainment!

Suddenly At Home is staged at the Apollo Theatre, Pyle Street, Newport from Tuesday 10th – Saturday 14th September, curtain up 7.30pm. Tickets available from the website at https://www.apollo-theatre.org.uk/suddenly-at-home/ or from the Box Office on 01983 210010.
But hurry – tickets are selling fast!

Thursday, 29 August 2019

In conversation with Graham Pountney

As we are lucky enough to have professional actor Graham Pountney as a 'guest' actor in our next production, 'Suddenly At Home', we took the opportunity of asking him a few questions...

                                    Graham Pountney onstage as Glenn in 'Suddenly At Home'.

Could you tell us a bit about your acting career and links to the Island?

My parents first brought me here when I was three. Then we came every summer, my folks building their retirement home here. Now they have passed on, my sons come down too!

I have been followed for approx forty years by the County Press who reported my graduating from Bristol Old Vic drama School in the 70s. I was a regular character  in the BBC TV series Howards Way, shot in the Hamble.

Recently I brought to life two Anthony Minghella plays at the Quay Arts Minghella Theatre in June; and an evening of Alan Bennett plays the year before - I toured Richard II and Edward II to The Ventnor Fringe in 2017; and presented my solo show as Charles I in Carisbrooke Castle last year too!

Is this the first time you have acted at the Apollo Theatre? 

Not exactly - I rehearsed my audition speeches for drama school on the stage in 1973!  Otherwise, yes

Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about ‘Suddenly At Home’ and your character?

Glenn is a charmer ... he wants to better his life, and subtly resents his wife having more cash than him, and the way she wants to spend it and live her life.  He decides there's a way to better himself on his own terms.  The play's about him attempting to do that - but other people get in the way

What made you agree to be part of this play?

I was asked! - and I've also been discussing with the Apollo about bringing a play to the Theatre with my company next year - and it seemed a great way to get to know everyone, and enjoy entertaining audiences too.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see it?

Be prepared to have your ideas changed - nothing is quite what it seems in the play, and the tension is tangible.  A great night out!


'Suddenly At Home' by Francis Durbridge is staged at the Apollo Theatre for 7 nights from Friday 6 September (not Sunday or Monday). Tickets can be obtained from our website at  https://www.apollo-theatre.org.uk/suddenly-at-home/ or by phoning our Box Office on
01983 210010

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Natural Causes by Eric Chappell – The Apollo Players

The first – but by no means only – wonderful thing I noticed about ‘Natural Causes’ was the set: the talented team at the Apollo have brought to life in every detail the book-lined study of a faded intellectual, personified in the character of Walter Bryce who, as the play begins, is very anxiously playing host to an eccentric individual named – or perhaps not – Vincent Vincent. The latter, it appears, despite his lack of education (“did I tell you I left school at the age of fourteen?”) and background, has the wherewithal to administer a potion inducing death almost immediately with no trace – the victim will appear to have died from ‘Natural Causes’.

You would expect a black comedy based on such a premise, from the pen of the writer of such hits as ‘Rising Damp’ to have twists, turns, miscommunication and plenty of laughs, and indeed the script delivers all this and more. 

But the real success of this production rests on the portrayal of each character, and the direction behind it. And director Martin Ward can feel very proud of his work and his team. Steve Reading plays Walter to perfection – nervous yet ready to go through with his dastardly plan which seems to be thwarted at every turn, somehow gaining our sympathy with his predicament. Helen Reading portrays his ‘secretary’ Angie with a Lady Macbeth level of persuasion and taunting: she at least is fully determined to get the outcome she wants.

Kathryn Ward, as Walter’s devoted wife Celia, skilfully gives us a character we simultaneously empathise with – and want to see dead, and David Carr’s Samaritan Withers is suitably fluttery in the face of possible suicide and bewildered by the confusion he encounters as he tries to prevent what Vincent tries to accomplish.

Vincent himself, played with a lovely mixture of confidence and confusion by Steve Taverner, appears to have the whole situation under control – after all, he’s ‘helped’ so many people, and there’s another client in Slough just waiting to die…..but as it turns out, he just might have to wait a bit longer. 

To say more would spoil the plot for those who come along to The Apollo next week to see the show: and I really recommend that you do  – it is staged from Tuesday 21st to Saturday 25th May inclusive, curtain up 7.30pm. Expect hilarity, confusion – and a lot of plot twists along the way, all of which make for a most entertaining evening!

Tickets are available via the Apollo website at https://www.apollo-theatre.org.uk/natural-causes/ Or can be reserved by calling 01983 210010.


Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Weir by Conor McPherson

As soon as you enter the auditorium for the Apollo Players’ latest show, you’re in for a treat: the hugely talented set design crew have surpassed themselves in reproducing a rural Irish pub. From the flickering peat stove, to the beer pulls that look as if they have produced countless pints of Guinness and lager, to the hay bales in the adjoining barn, the stage is quite literally set for an evening in Brendan’s cosy bar.

Brendan, played with understated humour by Robbie Gwinnett, is resigned to his apparent lot as host to his regulars, and we feel that we are witnessing a typical evening as grumpy Jack (Colin Ford) comes in and helps himself to a drink, complaining about the malfunctioning tap and putting his money in the till. The general banter between the two reflects local life, and they are joined by Michael Arnell’s gently spoken Jimmy, who has ‘got more going on’ in his head ‘than popular opinion would give him credit for’.

So far, so usual, until the conversation turns to a newcomer in the village – a rare event, we surmise – and a woman too, who is renting a house from Finbar, a local married man who, to his friends’ mix of scorn and jealousy, appears to be escorting her around the area.

When we meet Finbar and Valerie the dynamic changes, with the men vying for her attention by relating anecdotes which invoke the ancient spirit of old Ireland with its tales of fairy folk and the supernatural. David Vince’s Finbar dominates the pub and the stage – we learn that he has moved out of the area and returned, and both he and Valerie, played by Ginnie Orrey, have a veneer of sophistication lacked by the others. This gives rise to some humour when she throws Brendan into turmoil by asking for a glass of wine and to use the Ladies’ – the lack of female companionship in the men’s lives is thrown into sharp relief here.

It is a very difficult task to sustain a strong accent such as that of rural Ireland throughout a play, and the cast are to be congratulated on their efforts; however, these accents and the very Irish dialect words and cadences of speech did at times make the dialogue difficult to follow – I note that even professional productions of the play have made use of native Irish speakers, which reflects this difficulty.

That said, the men’s anecdotes build towards the sharply real and tragic story that Valerie has to tell, and in the final scene one is left wondering whether the younger characters’ lives will follow the empty pattern of the older men or whether there is a glimmer of hope for something more.

The Weir will be staged every evening from Tuesday 2nd April to Saturday 5th April, curtain up 7.30pm. Tickets are available from the Apollo website at https://www.apollo-theatre.org.uk/the-weir/ Or from the box office on 01983 210010.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Brontë by Polly Teale


Fiona Gwinnett, Abbi leverton and Susan Simpson as Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë- photograph by Ian Johnston LRPS

The first thing a regular Apollo visitor notices on entering the auditorium for a performance of Brontë is the stage – it’s not where it has been for over forty years! In order to enhance the intimate atmosphere of the play, director Di Evans has chosen to present it in a traverse format, necessitating a good deal of shifting around of seating and the creation of a whole new stage. A lot of work - but well worth it, because the audience do feel emotionally in touch with the lives of the characters.

Brontë is a difficult play to stage, shifting as it does between timeframes and requiring each actor to portray more than one character, some real, some fictional. Yet the production absorbed me from the start, as modern day visitors to Haworth transform into the literary family and we are plunged into the middle of their story.

Branwell, the sole male sibling, on whom rests the hopes and expectations of his father and sisters for the reputation of the family, is perfectly played by Chris Hicks, who brings out Branwell’s weaknesses, vulnerability and anger; we can sympathise with the pressure he is under yet condemn his behaviour – the scene in which he physically assaults Charlotte is particularly shocking. Teale’s commentary on Victorian views of men and women is still relevant today – Branwell has the advantages and opportunities denied to his sisters because of their gender, and he wastes them.

Peter Gale, playing a range of roles, including Patrick Brontë, with aplomb, shows true skill in convincingly portraying completely  different people and ensuring we always know who he is and how we feel about him.

The role of Charlotte, the eldest and longest surviving sister, is in the experienced hands of Fiona Gwinnett, who gives us a real insight into the turmoil of her mind: never still, never quiet, never satisfied with the domestic lot of her life. We empathise as we see her rich creativity develop as a young girl and as she matures we witness her determination to find an outlet for her writing and find a way out of the lonely life to which she is condemned.

Emily, apparently quieter and more domesticated but in reality just as frustrated with the emptiness of household chores and caring for her father, is portrayed by Abbi Leverton, who conveys perfectly the vulnerability, love of nature and innate passion that leads Emily to write as an escape from the dreariness of her life. The scene in which she is horrified by Charlotte’s ‘outing’ her as a female writer after being published under a male pseudonym is heart wrenching, as is her death.

The youngest and least known sister, Anne, is played engagingly by Susan Simpson. He anguish at being away from home as a governess and her gentle nature, often caught as peacemaker between her siblings, is powerfully acted.

The real power of the play though, highlighted by the talent and skill of the direction and acting, centres on the isolation and repression of the three sisters, which finds its outlet in the characters of their imagination; Bertha and Cathy (from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights respectively) are superbly portrayed by Maria Wilkinson, and represent the inner passions of their characters’ creators perfectly, in words and, so often, in silent action.

Despite its setting in the real life of famous people over 150 years ago, this play still has plenty to say about the human condition and the effect of social pressure today. It is a piece which will emotionally engage you and evoke thought and discussion long after you have left the theatre.

Brontë runs from Tuesday 12 through to Saturday 16 February, curtain up 7.30pm – if you enjoy theatre which makes you think and gives you a different experience then don’t miss it!

Tickets available from the Box Office on 01983 210010 or via the website at http://www.apollo-theatre.org.uk/bronte/

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Historic Changes at The Apollo


The stage area starts to take shape......

.......and almost ready for the actors!


Having been chosen as the Director of Bronte, Di Evans read it through to get a feel of how it might be staged.  The script contains few stage directions and no suggestions for the set.  One night when working in the theatre she admitted that she was having trouble visualising it. In fact she said that the only way it seemed to work in her head was “in the round”.  As it happened there were enough people within in ear shot who agreed that was totally possible.  

The Apollo has operated for nearly 47 years as a conventional proscenium arch style theatre exactly as it was conceived by our founder John Hancock.  Occasionally we have installed the odd forestage to bring the action closed to the audience but we have always preformed with the actors facing the audience.   However theatres built in the last 60 years (for example the Olivier and Chichester) often situate the audience on 2 or even 3 sides of the performance.  Some (the Exchange in Sheffield) surround the stage with seating bringing the cast and audience into a very close relationship.

The Apollo does not allow us to achieve a complete “in the round” arrangement but we felt it quite possible to convert it to provide what is known as a traverse stage, sometimes employed when preforming drama in churches.  The audience is divided into two groups who are seated facing each other with the acting area in between.  It all seemed very simple: move the front two rows onto the stage and place the actors in the space between the front of the stage and the third row.  

Given the sight lines from the balcony it was agreed that for this production we would not sell seats there and to compensate we would add a third row on stage.  All the seats on the stage would be raked, as they are in the auditorium, to maintain good visibility.  It was obviously vital that health and safety was maintained including access and egress for the audience both able bodied and those in wheelchairs.  So a three dimensional computer model was created so that all interested parties could visualise the end result and rehearsals were started based on the floor area available.  

However and as if to prove that computers aren’t the total answer, some members of the Bronte cast were at the last night of The Vicar of Dibley and when at the end of the play Geraldine went down into the auditorium to retrieve the bouquet, they realised that visibility was not very good.  It was therefore decided that the acting area needed to be raised.  Now this is easy to say but involves quite a lot of construction.  A structure had to be built 18 inches (.45M) high over an area of 12ft by 22ft (3.6Mx 6.7M).  It also had to be usable as quickly as possible so that normal use of the theatre could continue.  

After two works nights the Dibley set had been struck (dismantled) and the seats moved to the stage leaving the acting area available for rehearsal albeit at the wrong height.  The following week work started on creating the raised area and with a combination of careful planning and sudden bursts of inspiration a usable stage was ready for rehearsals after two nights.  It now only remains to make sure the auditorium is safely accessible and to build the seating on stage. Rehearsals on the set appear to going well and hopefully Di’s visualisation is turning into reality.  


Paul Jennings

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Vicar of Dibley - The Apollo Players

The Apollo’s December production is, unlike most current shows, nothing to do with Christmas, but its subject matter is almost as familiar as the nativity story to those over a certain age, as the script is derived from various episodes of the hugely popular TV series of the same name, cleverly stitched together to form a coherent storyline taking us from the Vicar’s arrival in Dibley up to the wedding of Alice and Hugo.
With such a script, the show cannot help but amuse, but the generous amount of laughter evident on the first night was just as much due to the quality of the actors on stage. Sensibly, each character was re-created by its actor rather than trying to perform a carbon copy of the original TV cast.
Thus, we had a tall, dapper but characteristically pedantic Frank Pickle, played with understated skill by David Carr, sitting at the parish council table alongside no,no,no,no…yes – Mike Groves’ bumbling Jim, who excelled in the scene where he practised his wedding speech. The role of challenged cook and flower arranger Letitia Cropley was in the safe, experienced hands of Helen Clinton-Pacey, and equally professional was Simon Lynch playing Owen Newitt, the farmer obsessed with the bowel movements of his cows. The brief appearance of some, er, rather aged twelve year olds, played by Carole Crow, Dave Talbot, Maggie Cardew, Maureen Sullivan and Lucy Benton added to the fun.
Steve Reading as David Horton dominated the council meetings and the stage, which made his softening towards the end all the more emotional, while the intellectually challenged couple, Hugo and Alice were both superbly portrayed by Matt Osborne and Carol Simpson. Their onstage chemistry was hilarious, and the costume department is to be congratulated on the confection that was the wedding dress!
Each character had their own moment of hilarity but it was of course Geraldine, played by Hebe Gregory who held the whole show together, and the audience loved and laughed along with her from the moment she exploded on to the stage to the last poignant moment when David asks her to stay in the parish.
The dual set, with the parish hall on one side of the stage and the vicar’s home on the other were superbly designed and enabled slick scene changes, necessary in this episodic piece, moving the story along effectively.
All in all, if you have tickets for the rest of the run, you are in for a real treat – but beware, you may end up with sore sides from laughing. If you don’t have a ticket, the run is sold out, but it may be worth calling the theatre just in case of a cancellation. The show runs from Tuesday 11th to Saturday 15th December, curtain up 7.30pm.

"How many of you have managed to get tickets for the show then?"
The cast of The Vicar of Dibley - photo credit Paul Jennings