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Celebration - Theatre Review

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by Jenny Pickett (subscribe)
I enjoy making the most of life's experiences, exploring what Adelaide has to offer and sharing my experiences and discoveries with others via WeekendNotes!
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Fans of TV series 'Heartbeat' will enjoy 'Celebration'
Celebration, Stirling, Stirling Community Theatre, Amateur Theatre, Adelaide, The Stirling Players, Comedy, Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall, Patsy Thomas
Fans of TV series 'Heartbeat' will enjoy 'Celebration'

The Stirling Players present Celebration, a light-hearted two-act play by British playwrights Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall - who both hailed from working-class villages in Yorkshire and collaboratively produced a number of witty comedic plays. Waterhouse and Hall wrote Celebration in 1961, and to this day, theatre companies world-wide continue to pay homage to the origins of this witty comedy, by embodying a cast of 14 characters with the accents, personalities and ideologies of village life in 1960s Yorkshire.

Celebration is cleverly crafted and provides plenty of descriptive material and dialogue for Director Patsy Thomas and the cast and crew from Stirling Players to work with. Patsy also assisted Kevin Burrett with set design, and together with The Stirling Players set building team (Maurice Kneen, Brian Donaghy and Lori Nielsen) have done justice to the sets, with some clever design and detail, which reflects life in a 1960s working-class village of Yorkshire.

Stirling Players have cast well for Celebration's 14 colourful real-to-life characters - Deb Walsh is a natural as family matriarch and the bride's mother, Rhoda Lucas, who is a focal character throughout both acts.

Act 1 is set in a small and humble upstairs function room of one of the village pubs, with Rhoda and her husband, Edgar (John Koch) being assisted by their somewhat unscrupulous son, Jack (Nathan Brown) in preparations for the wedding reception. It's evident they need more help if they're to finish before midnight. Rhoda and Edgar's well-meaning niece, Irene Howes (beautifully played in submissive form by Kate van der Horst) arrives on a quick errand and, being sympathetic to their situation, stays on to help, much to the dismay of Irene's dominating mother, Lilian Howes (Madeleine Marin) and Irene's possessive beau, Stan Dyson (Ben Proeve). Adding to the fray is the groom's Aunty Alice Fuller (played with gusto by Mo Johnson), as Alice launches into full heckling action, picking to pieces Rhoda's handiwork, whilst expounding the virtues and failures of the village's two caterers: Barkers Catering Equipment Hire and Whittakers - causing some doubts and worries already aired by Edgar over Rhoda's insistence to use Barkers and the requisite grease-proof paper to dress the tables.
Celebration, Stirling, Stirling Community Theatre, Amateur Theatre, Adelaide, The Stirling Players, Comedy, Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall, Patsy Thomas, wedding cake, Rob Andrewartha
Pictured are the groom, Bernard (Tom Filsell) & bride, Christine (Rose Harvey) - celebrating their wedding & opening night with a tier of their beautiful (2-tier) wedding cake, created by Rob Andrewartha (image courtesy of The Stirling Players)

Intertwining both acts is the arrival and departure of the bride's beloved Great Uncle Arthur Broadbent (Chris Leech). In Arthur, audience members are bound to identify with this affable family member who is all too readily forgiven, loved and accepted for his mischievous and curious ways.

Act 1 features some witty, classic Yorkshire customs, sayings and slang, including proverbs about wedding superstitions, in which it turns out confident, assertive bride, Christine Lucas (Rose Harvey) and her amiable groom, Bernard Fuller (Tom Filsell) are not at all fazed by - uniting the night before the wedding, when Christine delivers and unveils their stunning 2-tier wedding cake (a real wedding cake, created by Rob Andrewartha) in the function room. The end of Act 1 sees preparations for the wedding reception completed, with helpful and unhelpful assistance and commentary from a growing number of Christine and Bernard's family members, including Bernard's wacky mother, Edna Fuller (Penni Hamilton-Smith's in her element in this role) and Christine's Uncle Frank Broadbent (David Evans) who somehow has double-booked his transport company's services for his niece's big day.

Act 2 is set in Rhoda and Edgar's home, 6 months on from Christine and Bernard's wedding, which sees Christine pregnant and her extended family gathering after the funeral service for Great Uncle Arthur. It is in this setting, in which the prejudice of status and class of 1960s Yorkshire comes to ugly, vivid light, in the family and community's shunning of Arthur's long time partner and widow May Beckett (Esther Michelson) and the removal of her rights to tenancy in the home she shared with Arthur for so many years.

For me, this was the critical turning point in the play, in which May does what many of us who have been treated in a similar way would love to have the courage to do - without hesitation, May stays true to herself and ultimately Arthur and fronts up and takes on Arthur's extended family, fearlessly challenging and confronting their prejudices. At its peak - there's about 11 characters all arguing at once and then, just like that, May manages to break through and be accepted into the family and acknowledged as Arthur's partner. It is at this point, Arthur's long-time friend Sgt. Major Tommy Lodge (David Lockwood) enters and along with Arthur's extended family and May, they fondly and humorously reminisce over Arthur.

Act 2 wittily ends as Act 1 began, with comparisons over the town's two caterers: Barkers Catering Equipment Hire and Whittakers!

If you loved the TV series Heartbeat, you'll enjoy and appreciate Stirling Players production of Celebration. Hair stylist Heather Jones has created some fantastic hairstyles, which together with each character's clothing, reflect the character's personality and the era. Danny Gibbons and Patsy Thomas' lighting and sound design further enhance each act's sets, especially in Act 2, by incorporating 60s music (played on the record player on-set) and creating a glowing ember effect to the fire hearth.

Stirling Players season of Celebration runs from 13-28 September 2019, with 8pm performances on Fridays and Saturdays and 4pm performances on Sundays. I attended and met the cast and crew on opening night and can highly recommend booking for Sunday, 22 September's 4pm performance which will include meeting the cast, Q&A and a tour of Stirling Community Theatre after the performance. Purchase tickets online via this link to TryBooking or via phone (08) 7481 6152.

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*Jenny Pickett was invited as a guest
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Why? Fantastic community theatre
When: 13-28 September 2019: 8pm (Fridays & Saturdays) and 4pm (Sundays)
Phone: Purchase tickets online (TryBooking) or via phone: (08) 7481 6152
Where: Stirling Community Theatre
Cost: Ticket prices are $22/adult, $18/concession, $16/ticket for Group booking (minimum 10 tickets)
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