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April 2005
The Garden Party
reviewed by Jon Morenoin The Isle of Wight County Press 6/5/05
(reproduced by kind permission of the Isle of Wight County Press)

The Cowes Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (CAODS) has an excellent reputation for staging entertaining plays -and the actors always put heart into their performances.

But its latest offering The Garden Party should have been consigned to the compost heap.

Before a virtually empty Trinity Theatre on its first night on Thursday last week, the only occasion I can recall when the cast and front of house staff doubled the number of people inside the venue, I watched and hoped for something gripping to happen -but, disappointingly, it didn't.

Although the play is set in contemporary Freshwater, the location was incidental.

Written by playwrights Jimmie Chinn and Hazel Wyld, the story centres around a family party to celebrate the 70th birthday of Richard (Peter Maddock), only for his children to discover he is not their biological father after all.

When Richard's blue-eyed son Ben (Martyn Stanley) brings long-lost dad Brice (Nick Eagle) to the party, mortified wife Jan (Maggie Pearman Taylor) relives the heartache of sending Brice packing when she, was a young mum.

Ultra polite and spineless Richard, an Oscar-winning cinematographer who falls on hard times when a self-financed movie deal collapses, takes Brice's appearance -and subsequent rows - on the chin, before eventual harmony is restored.

Other additions to the plot, aimed to spice it up, included the family's disdain to Jan selling Richard's prize collection of autographed movie-star photographs to a Ventnor man, to pay for repairs to a leaking roof; hyper-criticism from Ben's siblings over how rich he is and jan's fear he may be gay; and the effect a few home truths has on loud-mouthed Charlie (Wayne Child), Ben's brother, over an affair.

These ridiculously weak elements failed to keep the production afloat, though strangely, it was the effervescence of the cast that keep me awake.

Although much of the dialogue was just plain corny, Maggie Pearman Taylor brought out the best in her mumsy character and shared the most engrossing scene with ex-partner, Brice, played with equal feeling by Nick Eagle, as they discussed the traumas of fleeing the nest when teenagers and the children, just toddlers.

I learned that Jimmie Chinn had been commissioned to write a play but was totally out of ideas when he came to the Island to visit Hazel Wyld who was due to attend one of the shows.

On glimpsing an impressive house on the cliff, the pair tried to come up with imaginative ideas about the residents and develop a storyline.

It must have been an overnight stop because The Garden Party was painfully lacking.

Jo Plumbley, as Sam, Jan's daughter, and Chris White, as Jan's busybody neighbour and new friend, Eunice, certainly caught my eye with their efforts but it was a small crumb of comfort after what was a disappointing evening.

The players are undoubtedly talented but the team that chose the play should be more selective to make better use of those talents in future.

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