Tag Archives: Beth Colley

Black Chiffon


Park Theatre

Black Chiffon

Black Chiffon

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 19th September 2019



“a hugely enjoyable watch which will have its audience gripped”


Mrs Alicia Christie (Abigail Cruttenden) has the perfect upstanding family life. Or so she would like you to believe. Below the surface of formality, there bubbles intense resentment and one-sided jealousy between father Robert (Ian Kelly) and son Roy (Jack Staddon), the latter of which is due to be wed in four days to the beautiful Louise (Jemima Watling). Daughter Thea (Eva Feiler) offers some respite to the family’s persistent quarrelling, but tensions are consistently high and the stressful burden of playing happy families is taken on by the dutiful Alicia.

When Alicia goes out to the local department store to buy some groceries for dinner with Louise’s parents, she makes a split-second decision that shocks both her family and herself. Enlisting the services of ‘mind specialist’ Dr. Hawkins (Nicholas Murchie), the well-to-do family attempt to understand what led their dear matriarch to commit such an act. Black Chiffon, written by Lesley Storm in 1949 and directed here by Clive Brill, is about family, social preservation and the often-unrecognised struggle of the harmonising mother.

The acting is strong from all parties and the characters highly believable. Cruttenden commands the stage with her defiant motherly strength and Kelly does well to act the detestable and distant father. Staddon and Feiler have good sibling chemistry and Watling – in the same role her late grandmother, Patricia Watling, played in the 1950 Broadway production – is the perfect simpering bride. Murchie is witty and quick and his conversations with Cruttenden comprise some of the play’s best moments. The dialogue can be a bit cliché at times such as the grand announcement that closes the first act, but in general the script is solid and intriguing.

The set (Beth Colley) is wonderfully elaborate. The play’s action takes place in the drawing room, a decorated space with dark green walls and a large window to the right. An ornate camelback sofa, armchair and round mahogany coffee table are centre stage. A well-stocked drinks cabinet sits on the back wall next to a small table with a telephone. The actors enter and exit from stage left through a pair of double doors that can be pulled to. The audience also walks through these and along a short corridor decorated as if part of the house to reach their seats which is a nice touch in immersing them in the space.

Despite this limited setting, the play gives a good sense of space beyond the drawing room. The characters comment on the hustle and bustle elsewhere in the house and we hear cars pull into the drive. A painting hanging above the fireplace is remarked to be a painting of the house’s Embankment surroundings some years ago, and the characters regularly gaze out the window.

Each act is marked by a fade to black in which the family’s maid Nannie (Yvonne Newman) bustles around the house tidying and rearranging. Beyond this, the lighting (Pip Thurlow) is only notably used to create a sense of day and night through the window. This is at its best when vibrant oranges and pinks create an early morning glow. The costumes (Neil Gordon) were good and of the era with Cruttenden treated to a fabulous array of dresses and headpieces. The music – taken from David Darling’s album ‘Cello’ – creates a strong sense of foreboding and anxiety.

Brill’s production of Black Chiffon is a hugely enjoyable watch which will have its audience gripped. The performance is slick and carries itself with the same dignity to which the Christie family aspire.


Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Mark Douet


Black Chiffon

Park Theatre until 12th October


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
My Dad’s Gap Year | ★★½ | February 2019
Cry Havoc | ★★ | March 2019
The Life I Lead | ★★★ | March 2019
We’re Staying Right Here | ★★★★ | March 2019
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough | ★★½ | April 2019
Intra Muros | | April 2019
Napoli, Brooklyn | ★★★★ | June 2019
Summer Rolls | ★★★½ | June 2019
The Time Of Our Lies | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Weatherman | ★★★ | August 2019


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Review of Curtain Call – 4 Stars


Curtain Call

White Bear Theatre

Reviewed – 1st December 2017


“Genuine pathos lifts the story from the dangers of superficiality”


“Yes, they’re all out there; the theatre community royalty. The finest collection of personality disorders this side of the Freudian nightmare”

Welcome to the world of Stanley Shenton, once a respected classical actor, but now relegated to appearing in murder mysteries on seaside piers. And welcome to Simon Bradbury, the (real life) actor who plays Stanley in ‘Curtain Call’, the show that kicks off the White Bear’s Christmas season. Bradbury is also the writer. The warning light inevitably switches on here, flashing the words ‘vanity project’, but this is rapidly extinguished. In this three-hander, Bradbury selflessly refuses to steal all the best lines for himself, generously doling them out to each character. His acerbic wit and finely tuned observations permeate the dialogue and make this play a joy to watch throughout.


It is always interesting to get a glimpse of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. The phrase itself conjures up a clandestine world, entry into which is a privilege. This is where the truth lies. Behind the mask, and beneath the makeup. There are inevitable echoes of Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’, and more noticeably Ricky Gervais’ ‘Extras’, but the cast manage to transcend this comparison by sidestepping caricature and making their characters totally believable.

Stanley, having been fired after his last disastrous Sunday matinee, is visited by Shelley Kline, an ex-girlfriend who hopes to rescue him from his desperate straights by offering him a job with her. Now a successful theatre director, she wants him to play Gloucester in an upcoming production of ‘King Lear’ in the West End. One of the problems, however, is that Rod C. Tanner, an old friend and rival for Shelley’s affections, is playing the king himself. Complicating things further is Rod’s TV star status and Stanley’s resentment and feelings of inadequacy.

Bradbury’s Stanley is weighed down with practically a whole chip shop on his shoulder. His boorishness, however, does not deter his old flame (touchingly portrayed by Heide Yates, the Canadian singer/actress in her UK debut) from trying to get him back on track. Yates evokes a fine mix of altruism and love behind her character’s motives. But just as you think this is the main story, Aran Bell’s Rod C Tanner enters. The play undoubtedly steps up a notch. The banter and rivalry between Bradbury and Bell would give Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau a run for their money. The humour is dark and often relentless as they hack away at each other, yet this is no lightweight comedy, it is ultimately touching, and Bell’s transformation from his gloating antagonism to eventually identifying a true friend in need is heart warming. That is the inherent strength in the writing. Weighty issues, such as alcoholism or the very real affliction of chronic stage fright, are given the comedy treatment but not demeaned in any way. Genuine pathos lifts the story from the dangers of superficiality.

Brian Croucher’s direction keeps the energy flowing throughout and Beth Colley’s costumes are worthy of a West End theatre. The White Bear has always been acclaimed for its pioneering dedication to new writing and quality theatre. This is no exception. The combined talents and shared experience of this troupe clearly shows. Well worth a visit indeed.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Justin Thomas



Curtain Call

is at the White Bear Theatre until 16th December



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