Review: The Whispering Wood, by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon

By - Friday 25th July, 2014

When two troupes of actors go head-to-head in a woodland setting, Kasper Seward is gripped and enchanted

Enchantment in a woodland setting – Coulsdon Theatre Workshop in action.
Photo author’s own.

The Whispering Wood, devised by Lucy-Ann Martin.

Time: 7:45pm on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th July; 7:45pm on Tuesday 29th July – Saturday 2nd August.

Location: Coulsdon Manor Hotel and Golf Club, Coulsdon Court Road, Old Coulsdon, Surrey CR5 2LL

Set within the sweeping lawns and majestic trees of Coulsdon Manor Hotel, you will find Theatre Workshop Coulsdon‘s latest open-air production, The Whispering Wood. With a fine history of open-air productions behind them this theatre group has now firmly established this fine mid-nineteenth century manor house and hotel as the base for its summer productions.

Arriving at the hotel with plenty of time to spare, my friend and I decided to eat from the restaurant menu before settling down for the evening’s entertainment. The meal came promptly and proved to be a staple stomach filler for the ensuing frivolity.

As we made our way back out of the manor house towards the grounds where the open air theatre was to be performed, my guest and I were directed by a fellow aboard a golf buggy offering us a lift. We decided to press on on foot, making the most of the clear summer skies. Rounding a corner the wooded clearing became visible and a couple of large pagodas were also to be seen. These acted as ticket office and barbecue, where drinks and food were available.

Having come prepared with a ground blanket (which I strongly recommend), my companion and I decided to opt for the best seat in the house – on the ground in front of the garden chairs which had been divided into two neat sections either side of a large oak tree. The set seemed minimal with a large rock bridge-like feature spread across the clearing. This, however, proved a most useful piece of scenery, standing as it did for any number of ancient structures from castle to cottage.

The view from the best blanket in the house.
Photo author’s own.

We did not have long to wait before the first troupe of actors came strolling into our sheltered clearing to the accompaniment of some fine folk minstrels, set to one side of the audience under an awning all of their own. Introducing themselves as the Great North Players, this troupe had come for their annual production of stories. However it was not long before another competing set of actors introduced themselves as the Little Sackville Players, who had also come to entertain the assembled audience.

And so the scene was set for a variety of performances, as the two troupes compete for the audience’s approval – with a vote to follow. (Happily they take it in turns to act out their stories, and there was no descent into riotous behaviour – once such a staple of Croydon nightlife!) Picking out the very best of these rival performances is difficult among so many.

The troupes take it in turns to perform a tale drawn at random by the mayor with help from a member of the audience. A favourite of mine was the story of ‘The Discreet Princess’. Luke Argles as the youngest of the sisters with bright red hair, much like the Disney heroine of the movie Tangled, was brilliant and his portrayal of the dizzy, excitable sister was hilarious! The company’s foreign accents were also very good, reflecting the folk stories’ French and German origins, by the likes of authors such as the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault.

The story of ‘Foolish Wishes’ is commendably carried out in authentic Bavarian baritones by the troubled woodman, played by John East and his wife Lisa Lloyd. Simeon Dawes of the Little Sackville Players makes an expert narrator whose dulcet tones I could have listened to all evening. The final story of the evening, entitled appropriately ‘The Sillies’, comes with a hilarious set-up and some glorious imaginative acting and a brilliant final song, which only made me long for more songs throughout the evening to add to the musical atmosphere.

The woodland glade provides a magical setting

I also feel special mention must go to Rosa Ruggeri for portraying the most comely of princesses, and the wonderful Hannah Montgomery was brilliant throughout in her many differing roles, but perhaps most memorably as the Discreet Princess. The Scottish play of ‘The Two Willies’, Big and Wee, was also of note, proving that the cast could do regional accents as well as foreign ones.

Richard Lloyd was a consummate professional in all departments and reminded me a little of a young John Sessions in his comic abilities! Joe Wilson made a fine and hirsute prince, and Steve Jacobs a most acceptably demonic Rumpelstiltskin! Credit must also go to Lucy Ann Martin for selecting such a well-chosen set of folk tales from such a wide base of sources. Dan Ireson also made an impressive figure as head of the Great North Players – something I mention despite being a supporter of the Little Sackville Players, who I feel were robbed of the final vote by the mayor on the night I attended.

The woodland glade provides a magical setting for this most ancient of pastimes. The human character is displayed in the most noble and also most foolish of its guises with aplomb by a large troupe of actors all well versed in human emotion. The accompaniment of the two musicians also deserves praise – I found this really added to the other-worldly atmosphere of the woodland setting on this most wonderful of summer evenings.

There’s still a chance to see this terrific production. To book tickets you can click here.

Kasper Seward

Kasper Seward

Kasper grew up across the border in leafy Wallington, but has lived in Croydon for the last 8 years. After a mixed education in the cultural arts, and several years volunteering with local conservation group The Downlands Project, Kasper has become a professional volunteer devoting his time and energies to issues he sees as important.

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