Reviews

 

All the reviews of our performances published by the local press and by members of our audience are reproduced below in chronological order, beginning with the most recent production. Simply click on a title to read the review.

DANCING AT LUGHNASA

Congratulations on a great performance last night! My wife and I enjoyed the play and we thought that you and every single member of the cast were excellent, bringing your characters to life with energy, conviction and warmth. It is a beautifully written play, rich in monologues and quick witted exchanges, infusing the production with poignancy, humour, exuberance and a bittersweet taste which has stayed with me. I thought the set enhanced the atmosphere and you all connected so well with the audience, conveying the joy, the sadness, the wistfulness and longing, making us care about each person and their different paths through life, the hopes, dreams and harsh realities. Compliments to all the cast for a memorable night of theatre.

THE FISHERMAN'S WIFE

I was impressed with 'The Fisherman's Wife', which l 'caught' on the Saturday. Nothing half baked about this show: excellent staging and Common Ground achieved wonders with such a proppy piece in a confined space.

I particularly liked the seating, a sort of parting of the waves, with the bobbing heads of the audience in a sea of action. Great crimson costumes, the Squid swimsuit particularly delightful, and the take on Punch and Judy idea inspired!

Congratulations to the cast. As ever Jez Ashberry inspired the others with a solid, understated presence, with admirable performances from the two talented young women, whilst Philip Little offered up a moving and nuanced portrait of the hapless Cooper.

So pleased to have witnessed a rude, anarchic, witty piece of absurdist theatre shaking the staid foundations of the Drill Hall!

Ray Longmore, May 2015

CARRY ON, JEEVES

Nowhere in the vast works of PGW did the master ever write a play about Jeeves and Wooster. Yes, there have been two TV series starring Dennis Price and Ian Carmichael in the mid-1960s and Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the early 1990s. And yes, there have been some independent dramatisations of the stories, but nowhere in the UK could one find a full-blooded play written for the theatre about our two heroes. Until now, that is.

Jez Ashberry, chairman of the Lincoln-based Common Ground Theatre Company, decided he wanted to redress this deficiency. This was no easy task because first he had to seek permission from PGW’s Estate to use original material from which to write the play. This was initially refused, but happily Jez’s persistence was rewarded when eventually the Estate approved a script he sent them.

With so extensive a choice of J-W stories to choose from Jez alighted principally on just two. The first half of the play (running to almost 90 minutes) he based on ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’ all about Bertie purloining his Uncle Willoughby’s scandalous memoirs. Aficionados will know that this first appeared in the UK as a short story in Strand Magazine in 1923 and was later included in ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ in 1925. From this, the playwright evidently took the title for his play. The second half (running to a slim 50 minutes) focused on ‘Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit’ first published in Strand Magazine in 1927, later incorporated into ‘Very Good, Jeeves’ published in 1930 and featuring the puncturing of hot water bottles.

I attended what in fact was the World Premiere of the play, opening night on 14 March 2013 in the Drill Hall in Lincoln. Now, fellow Wodehousians prepare for a shock, indeed make sure you are safely seated with a good restorative before reading further. Jeeves, played superbly by Graham Turner, was depicted with a moustache!! Not only that, but in the opening scene with Bertie, played with equally commendable spirit by Jason Hippisley, waking up after a night out with the boys, he was dressed not in night attire of a suitably becoming pattern, but with upper torso covered in nothing but a vest!! Then, thought I, probably most of the audience had no notion of the reality of Plum’s creations and took everything at face value, if you will excuse the intended pun.

I therefore spent the rest of the play ignoring all the influential Fry/Laurie images, all the prejudicial notions of knowing what ought to have been, focussing instead on what was before me. And what a treat it was!

Jez has crafted an outstanding theatrical presentation of two very well-known stories. Some of the dialogue from the books he has taken almost verbatim and placed them in the mouths of two actors who certainly knew their stuff. But dialogue alone could not hope to recreate the felicity of PGW’s writing. Much of the charm of the written stories comes from Bertie’s descriptive asides of events, utterances of his thoughts and his wonderful turns of phrase and use of unconventional abbreviations. All these Jez managed to include in the play by having Bertie unashamedly talk direct to the audience, taking us into his confidence to garner our support and sympathy and to allow us to enjoy PGW’s brilliant use of the English language. Indeed, like the dialogue, many of these asides were lifted straight from the books. Jez recognised that he could never hope to improve on the master’s words, so instead he used them in all their glory.

Of all the supporting cast perhaps Irene North’s Aunt Agatha took the biscuit. This was a grand performance in magisterial Lady Bracknell fashion. Not far behind, Michael Church was a very believable Sir Roderick Glossop, duly affronted when coming face to face with cats in Bertie’s flat and equally upset to discover in the second half that Bertie had just punctured his hot-water bottle. All the other actors brought excellent period realism in their accents, their costumes, their mannerisms and their treatment of Bertie as one would a doormat. The 1920s music played during the scene changes served to reinforce the setting of the play.

How would I sum up the play? I suspect Wodehouse purists are still in shock at the thought of Jeeves with a moustache. But let us reflect for a moment on the purpose of this play. The playwright’s intention was to fill a gap in the works of P G Wodehouse. He could have chosen any number of the Jeeves/Wooster stories. I felt the two he chose were exactly right to depict the relationship between the two main characters, the well-to-do world that these characters moved in, the demands placed on Bertie by unsympathetic aunts and unthinking cousins and acquaintances and the magnificent English that made it all possible. This play has opened the world of PGW to a new generation of theatre-goers and it deserves our fullest thanks and praise.

Steve Griffiths
Wooster Sauce, June 2013


CARRY ON, JEEVES

Congratulations to the Lincoln-based amateur – and entirely volunteer-run – Common Ground Theatre Company on their recent world premiere run of writer Jez Ashberry’s new play Carry On, Jeeves. It was well worth my journey up the A1.

There was an air of happy anticipation on the Friday night in the lovely community space that is the Lincoln Drill Hall, with Anne Dudley’s music from ITV’s Jeeves & Wooster series playing in the background and a member of the audience stumbling up the stairs and announcing that his fooling about was “not part of the show”.

On stage a simple set of furnishings and props was backed by a vast white canvas, behind which the back-lit shadows of a live band appeared from time to time, playing well. They were joined by a charming singer during the interval. This was Billie Baker and the Bootleg Babies, put together specially for this show.

Jason Hippisley handled the huge and taxing role of Bertie with gusto despite being slightly afflicted by one of those seasonal coughs. A tall man with presence and many engagingly athletic moves, he infused Bertie with a touch of Monsieur Hulot to good effect. Graham Turner was a quiet, modest and friendly Jeeves and the relationship between the two worked well. There was a gradual shift from the grubby vest-clad Bertie lounging in a rumpled bed at the beginning, to Bertie dressed in an ill-looking ‘sprightly young check’, to the second half of the play when Jeeves’s influence had taken effect and Bertie was looking sharp.

Two more outstanding performances from the fifteen strong cast were Irene North, who gripped in every scene into which she erupted as Aunt Agatha, her crystal clear diction ensuring that we did not miss an insult; and Kate Bartlett as Honoria Glossop with a snorty laugh and nicely pitched galumphing manner.

The audience clearly knew their Wodehouse and chuckled as they recognised the familiar passages of dialogue. The story-telling was strong, with played scenes punctuated by Bertie addressing the audience direct allowing us to know what he was thinking.

One or two of the actors allowed the pace to drop a little and there were a few longish pauses to change scenery. When there was a significant scene change the band entertained us. With the action being episodic and derived from three Wodehouse stories there was a small amount of repetition, and with many short scenes clustering together there was the occasional slight puzzle about where we were, eg. when an ironing board appeared to be in a party scene. Perhaps that was just me becoming tired after my long drive. The hot water bottle puncturing scene was particularly well handled and appreciated by the audience. This and many other very well played moments will remain in my memory and make me smile whenever I think of them.

Apparently it took writer and Common Ground Theatre Company chairman Jez Ashberry two years to win the trust of the Wodehouse Estate to allow him to write this new play. All are to be congratulated for getting this project off the ground. The world now has the Jeeves and Wooster play that Wodehouse never wrote. In the programme Mr Ashberry writes ‘the play you are watching is a world premiere, never seen before and possibly never to be seen again!' Rubbish – this will definitely be revived and ring down the ages.

There was a very enthusiastic response from the audience at the end and we skipped out humming the Bootleg Babies' songs.

Christine Hewitt
www.pgwodehousesociety.org.uk

GIGI DELIGHTS AUDIENCE

It's 19th-century Paris, and a group of formidable matriarchs have meddlesome plans for the future of their young charge.

Destined for a life as a courtesan, 16-year-old Gigi has grander ideas: dreams of love, perhaps even marriage.

Adapted for the stage by Anita Loos and based on the 1944 novella by the French writer Colette, Common Ground Theatre Company's production of Gigi is currently enjoying a run at Lincoln Drill hall.

Playing her first adult role is 14-year-old Megan Brewer, whose first night performance was described by audience members as "brilliant".

But special mention must go to Irene North as Alicia de St Ephlam, who stole the show with her outstanding portrayal - funny and totally commanding.

The entire show was packed with laughs - Holly Eggboro as the hapless, love-struck maid was also particularly comical.

It's just a shame lengthy set changes disrupted the flow. Leading to unrest in the audience, and some giggling, it seemed unavoidable with an elaborate but very impressive set.

Lincoln-based Common Ground Theatre Company is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

Dawn Hinsley
Lincolnshire Echo 12th June 2011

MOVING TRIP BACK TO THE SWINGING SIXTIES

The Lincoln-based theatre company's eclectic spring production at Croft Street Community Centre was the perfect antidote to the damp weather, featuring a moving trip back to the Swinging Sixties, plus a smashing little revue of comic songs and monologues in the second half.

Their play, Be My Baby, mixed pathos, humour and gutsiness in the story of a group of girls in a home for unmarried mothers, accompanied by lots of pop music from the era.

The sight of a line-up of heavily pregnant teens in grey prison-style smocks gyrating to The Ronettes' Be My Baby was something to see.

Val Petty gave an excellent turn as a strict matron with a heart of gold, Vicky Ashberry was just right as a sad mum whose dreams for her bright daughter have been dashed, and the four girls – Alex Thornton, Lisa Hewitt Smith, Katie Gray and Holly Eggboro – were splendid as the teenagers whose daydreams hid heartbreak.

The mood changed completely after the interval, with music and comedy for all tastes. A sparkling night out – director and producer Dave Lintin and Su Toogood should be delighted.

Sheila Jamieson
Lincolnshire Echo 15th May 2010

INSPECTOR STEALS HIS OWN SHOW

Arresting performances, forensic characterisation and scintillating suspense conspired to make An Inspector Calls one of Common Ground Theatre Company's greatest success stories to date. Crimes were committed in the conduct of the case but in the main the cast acquitted themselves, with honours intact and – for some – enhanced.

It is not for nothing that JB Priestley's social commentary examining personal responsibilities and collective culpabilities is regarded as a 20th century classic and that it remains as compelling today is testament to its excellence.

Verdicts of unanimous acclaim must be heaped on director Tony Smith who turned what on the face of it looks like a stilted dining table drama into a well paced, well staged and well-animated piece of theatre.

As the title character it is fitting that the Inspector stole the show. Christopher Adam's strength was in his stillness, solidity and stoicism, one by one leading his 'suspects' to the brink as they confessed their own crimes with the minimum of provocation.

His stage presence far exceeded his personal stature as he rose above all around him by cutting through the deceit. They really did meet their match and find their come-uppance in him.

An Inspector Calls offers deep social insights pitting the 'stammering and yammering' Arthur Birling (Maurice Raphael) and the icy cool Sybil Birling (played by Mary Scott in her inimitable style) against the new wave, in the guise of their children Sheila and Eric with affluent Gerald Croft straddling both camps with one foot in the compassion camp and the other planted firmly in privilege.

From the outset both Stephen Gillard (Gerald) and Nicola Stocks (Sheila) stood out for their strengths, both delivering sincere, spirited, strong and stylish successes. In both cases their competences were worthy of career-to-date 'bests'.

So too for Luke Niemiec whose contribution to the smooth running of the show was clearly invaluable. He rode the emotional roller-coaster of his part with clear conviction and style.

This was a new departure for Common Ground onto the Bishop Greaves stage at Bishop Grosseteste College and an inspired one too.

Jason Hippisley
Market Rasen Mail, 5th November 2009

CIDER WITH ROSIE

The charming memoir of Laurie Lee’s childhood, Cider with Rosie, was brought to life by Common Ground Theatre Company at the Drill Hall last week.

The play begins as the young Laurie, played by Jez Ashberry, moves with his family to their Gloucestershire home and the simple, minimalist set allowed the audience to use their imagination to visualise the sights the young Laurie would have encountered as a child in this remote Cotswolds village. Subtle lighting changes showed the changes of season and the passing of years.

The family, led by Teana Hutchinson as mother, worked well together. It is always difficult for adults to portray children, but on this occasion it worked well, with many childlike traits being subtly displayed, especially by John Leighton, playing Laurie’s younger brother Tony. He even managed to attain that glint in his eye that little boys have!

A good dollop of humour was created by the wonderful characterisation of Granny Trill by Su Toogood, a true old lady of the country with a story to tell.

Also with a story to tell was narrator Laurie Lee, played by Tim Bradford, who recounted the experiences of his childhood seen from many years later. It would have been easy to make this a read part, but not so in this production. Tim Bradford adeptly led the whole play with his lengthy narrative and not a note in sight.

A worthy introduction to Laurie Lee’s trilogy, which will have made many in the audience want to read or re-read the book.

Dianne Tuckett
Market Rasen Mail, 29th July 2009

COMMON GROUND DO US A GOOD TURN!

The Henry James novella 'The Turn of the Screw' has inspired a number artistic endeavours: film, opera, television, radio and theatre. Whatever the media, the question is still posed – is it a straightforward gothic horror story or a more complex study of hysteria?

Common Ground Theatre Company’s production left us no wiser by the end, but we, the audience, had been entertained, intrigued and had our nerves well and truly jangled as the plot unravelled to its startingly abrupt conclusion.

In my opinion, the adaptation by Ken Whitmore is a little pedestrian in parts, and the problem of presenting a large rambling country house on the very small stage at the Broadbent Theatre was never quite overcome. However, Vicky Ashberry, the director, more than compensated for this by creatively marshalling the undoubted talent she had at her disposal and inspiring her cast to great heights.

Jason Hippisley commanded the stage briefly as the mysterious Mr Crimmond who, for some unknown reason, abandons his children and house to an inexperienced, young governess, Miss Grey.

Miss Grey is an enormous part and Sarah Holt certainly did it justice, delivering a tour-de-force performance with intelligence and exactly the right amounts of passion, sensitivity and vocal clarity. Another large part in the play is that of Mrs Grose, the housekeeper, who was played by Christine Hughes with great warmth, charm and light comic touches.

The younger actors playing the children in the play were also both exceptional. Jamie Bendy had an excellent stage presence and showed great composure and clarity as the intelligent, sensitive but confused Miles. Fern Rodgers was remarkably focused as Flora, demonstrating advanced stagecraft and creating a very believable character.

There were two actors, unacknowledged in the programme, who did not speak but appeared several times, with powerful presences, as the ghosts. It was at these moments that the play really came alive and evoked the true ghost story spirit. These were also the times when the atmospheric lighting, by Patrick Markham, was at its most effective.

It was spooky driving home in the dark afterwards on the unlit and deserted roads away from Wickenby and there was no doubt that the evening’s entertainment had the desired ghostly effect. What a great success and what an excellent choice of play for the time of year!

Tuppy Owen
Market Rasen Mail, 13th November 2008

ON STAGE

The dark and winding road to the Broadbent Theatre in Wickenby on Thursday night certainly provided a fitting build-up to this tense and chilling ghost story.

The intimate theatre even played its own role on the night, creaking with the ghosts of performers past and present as Common Ground Theatre Company trod its boards with 'The Turn of the Screw'.

Adapted from the novella by Henry James, this shadowy mystery revolves around a young governess who believes her two charges are being haunted by former employees. A very special mention must go to Fern Rodgers and Jamie Bendy who played the young Flora and Miles so well the audience could never truly be sure whether they were angelic or treacherous.

Which leads to the central theme of the play... is Miss Grey going mad or are the ghostly apparitions real?

Sarah Holt's unnerving portrayal of Miss Grey certainly left everyone wondering the truth of the matter and chilled by the prospect of her madness.

This play represented an ambitious attempt for an amateur dramatic company with such a formidable and ambiguous plot and praise must be given to the cast for sticking to the traditional Victorian setting.

Dawn Hinsley
Lincolnshire Echo, 8th November 2008

 

TWO PLAYS TOUCH THE FUNNYBONE OF THE AUDIENCE

You won't hand over your hard-earned pennies for a night of theatre and get greater value for money than that on offer during an evening of amateur performances entitled More Food for Thought.

The evening, at Croft Street Community Centre, off Monks Road, Lincoln, not only comprised two one-act plays and two monologues but a two-course meal and glass of wine too.

Proceedings kicked off with Two Sides of a Square, a play starring Sasha Drennan, Luke Niemiec and Sarah Holt.

This was followed by a main course meal, a monologue, a raffle, another monologue, dessert and a final play.

I must give quick mention for the food, which was delicious, but the night belonged to the amateur performers.

The second monologue, by Jez Ashberry, was of particular note... sending a nervous giggle of recognition around the room and touching a chord with all nervous flyers.

The most outstanding of the evening's productions though was the final play, Meat and Two Veg - a witty tale about vegetable growers obsessed with, in particular, the size of their veg.

The play also answered the question, for anyone who's ever wondered, of what really is smouldering away on their neighbour's bonfire.

The three actors in this performance, Juli Charlton, David Lintin and Mark Scales, demonstrated great timing, developing characters which were engaging and funny.

In fact, most performances hit the funny bone and were a credit to the Common Ground Theatre Company.

Dawn Hinsley
LIncolnshire Echo, 8th May 2008

FEISTY PERFORMANCE CAPTIVATES AUDIENCE

The much-loved tale of Eliza Doolittle's transformation from street girl to high society lady was given a feisty portrayal by talented actress Aggi Gunstone at a packed Lincoln Drill Hall.

Common Ground Theatre Company's three-night run of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion featured Cockney and cut-glass accents perfectly depicting the snobbery of Victorian England.

With a strong cast, stunning costumes and a stylish set, Gunstone's Eliza portrayed a stark metamorphosis from the 'deliciously low and horribly dirty' street seller to a lady.

And Henry Higgins' - played by Richard Wood - parading of Eliza mid-transformation must not be forgotten, provoking priceless reactions from fellow cast members.

The first half was perfectly watchable, the second, focusing on the breakdown of the relationship between Eliza and Higgins, quite captivating.

Charlotte Orson
Lincolnshire Echo 20th July 2007

NIGHT OF THE 'LONG KNIVES' AT DRILL HALL

Although more than 400 years has elapsed since Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, a topical interpretation of the classic showing at Lincoln Drill Hall brings it bang into context.

With press conferences, footage screened on news channels and speculation among the masses over divided loyalties, it is hard to distance the political drama from the current debate raging over when Tony Blair should step down and who should succeed him in the battle for the premiership.

Even with the footage of the civil war which ensues following Caesar's murder it is impossible not to draw parallels with Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

It is this relevance which makes the bard's tragedy a timeless classic and its interpretation by actors from the Lincoln Shakespeare Company and Common Ground Theatre Company a triumph.

Charlotte Orson
Lincolnshire Echo 28th April 2007

ABIGAIL'S PARTY A BIG HIT

I love Abigail’s Party. Dripping with 70’s nostalgia, it contains toenail-curling attempts at social one-upmanship that have you laughing your socks off one minute and uncomfortably squirming in your seat the next but the whole thing is so compelling you just can’t turn away...

Written by Mike Leigh using trademark improvisation techniques the plot centres around an intimate but truly awful drinks party in the lounge of Beverly and Laurence’s suburban house (complete with real leather suite, silver-plated candelabra and a rotisserie). The unfortunate guests are new neighbours Angela and Tony, together with Sue, Abigail’s mother, who is stoically escaping her teenage daughter’s party next door. As the drinks flow liberally the small talk loosens and the social tensions heighten…

Common Ground Theatre Company’s production directed by Maurice Raphael at the Broadbent Theatre in Wickenby last week was oozing with 70’s kitsch and the audience lapped it up. When Beverly produced the cheesy pineapples on sticks resplendently displayed in half an orange covered in silver foil there was an audible gasp of appreciation.

As the hideous hostess Beverly, Wendy Tenbeth definitely made the most of the flirtatious side of the character as she dug her painted talons into the monosyllabic Tony (Andy Holmes). Anticipating the lines that were going to get the audience roaring, she delivered these with confidence and relish.

Martin Noble gave a real injection of energy to the production as Beverly’s workaholic husband Laurence and Katie Greathead was consistently naïve as mousy neighbour Angela who is constantly opening her mouth and putting her foot in it. Su Toogood downplayed the role of quiet divorcee Susan with an impressively realistic off-stage vomit (too much gin on an empty stomach).

Although the accents were a little inconsistent and the pace quite slow at times there were some lovely moments of comedy. Laurence and Sue dancing together (on Beverly’s orders) at arms length to a smoochy tune and shaking hands at the end was as hilarious as it was embarrassing.

The intimate venue that the Broadbent Theatre provides worked very well for this show and at times you really felt like a voyeur at this cringeworthy social event. Despite a few nervously awkward moments, the odd unsubtle grimace and a couple of unnecessary wigs this production was a big hit with the audience who tittered away as though Beverly was topping up their glasses as often as her own. Little cheesy-pineapple one anyone…?

Jo Hollingworth
Market Rasen Mail 14th December 2006

THE ART OF COARSE ACTING

A show always starts for me at the theatre door, and I was not disappointed by the welcome that was given by the box office and the three charming young programme sellers. A very helpful theatre manager and some lively music in the background further enhanced the atmosphere.

Michael Green has written a series of plays and books regarding Coarse Acting and as the title suggests the content covers theatrical disasters - if it can go wrong it does, from props which fail to falling scenery and actors who do not know their lines.

Over-acting and under-acting are all qualities required to make these plays a success. With a show of this genre actors need to be able to act well to act badly and in this the show succeeded. The most hilarious moment for me was the tea urn which represented a samovar in The Cherry Sisters which once turned on could not be turned off. As a result every receptacle on the stage was brought into use and very skilfully operated by Lindsey Slapp.

Lindsey also played the musical conductor in the opera Il Fornicazione which was again very skilfully done as the only member of the orchestra to turn up was the triangle player.

The evening was divided into three plays and one opera introduced by the theatre manager standing in for the chairman of CHAPS who was reportedly in hospital having suffered a broken leg in a previous production.

The plays were broken up by some hilarious piano interval music by the talented Miss Titterington; how one can manage to play so many wrong notes whilst making the tune vaguely recognizable takes talent.

Another highlight was the re-run of a play called Stalag 69. All three actors played their parts to perfection and were ably assisted by perfect falling scenery, revealing the backstage crew sitting on a sofa with the requirements for their sound effects, including rattling chains and pink daisy wellie boots representing the sound of German soliders marching.

The large cast of 14 coped well with the intricacies of this play; Ann Jackson's over-acting in Streuth! was particularly suitable. Jason Hippisley’s false-bearded vicar was well portrayed when he was manoeuvred into the dreaded 'loop' (a term used when actors repeat the same lines over and over again because they have missed or been given the wrong cue).

Teana Hutchinson’s playing of the Countess di Formaggio in Il Fornicazione singing in true operatic style was played to perfection.

The lighting effects were well designed and operated by Damian Hutchinson with just the right amount of subtlety between bad lighting and lighting designed to be inadequate at times.

Costumes were also well put together by Vicky Ashberry and the set with all its intricacies was well constructed and suited the genre of the play. Make up was subtle with just enough of a hint of 'over the top'.

It is very difficult to direct a play of this ilk and I congratulate Jez Ashberry on his skilled direction.

The only disappointment was the audience numbers; this play deserved a bigger audience, as do many productions at the Broadbent Theatre. Local and professional companies produce some very entertaining and quality productions which are not well supported at this charming rural community theatre.

Gloria Poole
Market Rasen Mail 20th July 2006

 

ON COARSE TO TREAT US TO ALL THE CLICHES

If you are a fan of outtakes and TV bloopers then this show is for you.

Common Ground Theatre Company presents The Coarse Acting Show which follows the trials and tribulations of a hapless am dram club staging four short plays.

The show got off to a slow start but the audience were soon enjoying some great Acorn Antique-esque moments in the murder mystery and the Chekhovian tragedy.

The final scene of the Chekhov play was a particular highlight and set the scene for the very funny Stalag 69, with a top performance from Philip Little as Squadron Leader Crawford.

The varied line-up also included an opera with plenty of melodrama and a sterling performance from the orchestra - a lthough it would be hard to match the musical talents of the interval pianist.

Amy Woolford
Lincolnshire Echo 15th July 2006

'PERFICK' SHOW SETS HIGH STANDARDS

The enchanting tale of a 'perfick' life came to the stage of the Broadbent Theatre enveloping the whole audience in the Kentish Larkin idyll.

The play, of course, is H E Bates's The Darling Buds of May and this was the first foray to the wilds of Wickenby for the Common Ground Theatre Company.

The parts of Ma and Pop Larkin are synonymous with David Jason and Pam Ferris, thanks to the very successful television series, but Maurice Raphael and Christine Hughes approached the roles head on and made them their own.

And the same goes for Elly Tipping, as the beguiling Mariette, and Jason Hippisley, as the earnest, young tax inspector Mr Charlton (Charley). The pair captured the relationship between the two characters immaculately and, although the vast majority of the audience knew the story, there was still an air of anticipation as to the outcome.

The supporting cast did just that, supported the main characters, by giving spot-on performances that added to the main action of the play.

A small theatre always presents some challenges when staging a play, but Common Ground used the available space to maximum impact.

The whole production, to coin a phrase, was just perfick, setting a high standard for themselves with local theatre goers.

The Common Ground Theatre Company will be returning to Wickenby in July with The Coarse Acting Show.

Dianne Tuckett
Market Rasen Mail 16th March 2006

 

SHOW 'PERFICK' FOR SOME

The auditorium was packed as The Darling Buds of May got off to a sedate start at the Broadbent Theatre in Wickenby last night.

In the first of a three-night run there were strong performances from Pop (Maurice Raphael), Ma (Christine Hughes) and Mariette (Elly Tipping).

But if you're after and edge-of-your-seat ride this gentle production won't suit.

The pace is slow with some moments of uncomfortable silence but the performance, by Common Ground Theatre Company, was a hit with the audience.

There were moments of comedy thanks to Jason Hippisley's role as bumbling Mr Charlton.

The laughter wasn't always comfortable but for some this show was just "perfick".

Katherine Davison
Lincolnshire Echo 11th March 2006

BILLY LIAR IS A TRUE SUCCESS

The suffocating atmosphere of Billy Fisher's life in 1950s Britain is well captured in Common Ground Theatre Company's production of 'Billy Liar'.

A strong cast depicts the trials and tribulations of inveterate liar Billy and his long-suffering family and looks at how everyone is trapped in their own way.

Maurice Raphael and Vicky Ashberry are very convincing as Billy's parents and Andy Holmes and Elly Tipping add real spark as the best mate and the wronged girlfriend.

But Billy's Gran, his girlfriend Barbara and lost love Liz are also convincingly portrayed.

There were a few shaky moments on opening night but the performance was none the less for that and Jason Hippisley brought Billy to life with ease.

All in all an enjoyable evening's entertainment.

Amy Woolford
Lincolnshire Echo 29th October 2005

FESTIVE FAVOURITE A WINTER WARMER

Regularly topping polls of the public's favourite films, 1946 classic It's A Wonderful Life has become as much a part of Yuletide as trees, tinsel and turkey.

And it was a brave move by Lincoln's Common Ground Theatre Company to attempt to put the Capra into Christmas with their own stage version of the familiar story at the city's Drill Hall last week.

The production, which also transferred to Nettleham Village Hall at the weekend, was a straightforward adaptation of the movie's story - a gender change here, a necessary excision there, but essentially Frank Capra's movie on stage.

At times, especially in the first half, the enormity of what the cast had taken on seemed to overwhelm them. with uneven performances and inconsistent American accents. But as the plot thickened and especially when hero George Bailey - well played by Jez Ashberry - was shown what his home town of Bedford Falls would have been like if he had never been born, the production really hit its stride.

There were enjoyable performances from Jennifer Martin as George's wife and Su Toogood as impish guardian angel Clarice Oddbody who finally gets her wings at the end of the play, and the whole thing took place on a superb and ambitious set in which the entire town was laid out across the stage, allowing the action to move smoothly between key buildings as the story of George's life unfolded .

Clever use of props also allowed Bedford Falls to be transformed into Pottersville during a brief blackout, and back again just as quickly. A production which took time to thaw but warmed into a spirited re-telling of a Christmas classic.

Mike Lyon
Lincoln Chronicle 23rd December 2004

 

WONDERFUL SHOW HITS RIGHT NOTE

The heart-warming tale of a man saved from suicide by his guardian angel was brought to the stage last night.

Frank Capra's much-loved Christmas movie It's A Wonderful Life has been adapted for the stage by Mary Elliott Nelson and Ian B Smith. It was performed by Lincoln's Common Ground Theatre Company in the city's Drill Hall.

Strong performances by Jez Ashberry as George Bailey, Jennifer Martin as Mary Bailey and Su Toogood as the angel working for her wings brought to life the feel-good story.

This life-affirming seasonal tale of friendship and the nature of achievement will melt any Scrooge's heart this Christmas.

Karen Parsons
Lincolnshire Echo 17th December 2004

SHOW'S AN ABSOLUTE GAS!

Queen Victoria glowers from the wall. High up in their boxes, moustachioed gentlemen peer intently towards the stage. The band strikes up and the MC, resplendent in top hat and tails, enters...

All of which goes to prove it was the setting, atmosphere and attention to detail - almost as much as the performances on stage - which made Common Ground Theatre Company's latest offering such a success.

In a departure from its usual dramatic productions, the company turned back the clocks for a Gaslight Extravaganza, a splendidly realistic evocation of the days of music hall which opened at Lincoln's Central Methodist Church on Friday.

All the songs you would expect were there, from Don't Dilly Dally and Any Old Iron to Burlington Bertie of Bow and Old Bull and Bush (with song sheets supplied, of course). These were interspersed with comedy, operetta, a comic monologue, a tribute to the silent movies and a scene-stealing recreation of the Sand Dance.

Self-proclaimed 'Master of Cemeteries' Tim Raynes kept the whole thing moving along briskly - and had all the best lines - and the individual items were delivered with irrepressible gusto, to the obvious delight of both the performers themselves and the sizeable opening night audience, several of whom had turned up in suitably old-fashioned clothes.

First-night nerves caused a few hiccups but could not dampen the spirits of all involved, and the result was an evening which no astute afficionado of such effusively and energetically effervescent entertainment could fail to enjoy. God save the Queen!

Mike Lyon
Lincoln Chronicle 20th May 2004

 

GOLDEN AGE RECREATED WITH FLAIR

We were promised an extravaganza and that is just what this latest departure by Common Ground Theatre Company proved to be.

Continuing this weekend at the Millennium Festival Studio Theatre - behind Lincoln's Central Methodist Church - Gaslight Extravaganza rolls back the years to the heyday of music hall gaiety.

A good two and a half hours of non-stop banter and repartee wrapped around a full programme of sing-along classics and voices worthy of a West End stage or opera house offers a remarkable recreation of a golden age.

It is a brave venture for a company regarded for its powerful dramatic presentations to lift the curtain on a totally different sort of showmanship, but with such an array of diverse talents among members and guests it is one that pays of with some style.

Audiences during last weekend, including a packed house, could not resist the urge to dress for the occasion and join in as their predecesors would at the original Victorian music hall.

Sheryl Tribe sets the scene with a jaunty chorus of Don't Dilly Dally and from there on it's a roller coaster of timeless classics which generate - seemingly from nowhere for those barely old enough to remember Saturday Night at the Palladium or the Royal Variety Shows - an urge to get stuck in too.

Jane Walker's remarkable operatic voice provides a sure grounding around comedian Jeff Bridge's slightly more bawdy touches, and Derek West and Edd Simpson also bring you back to the late 19th-century traditions of a good night out.

Seeing is believing where 'strongman' Ian Smith is concerned and the Sand Dance led by Tracey Hunt lends an air of the exotic, while Victoria Ashberry's jaunty verse of Burlington Bertie and Su Toogood's two popular songs recreate that wonderful sense of Empire building which the music hall sought to celebrate.

It is a credit to director and producer coupling Victoria and Jez Ashberry that they managed to bring such an extravaganza out of the darkness and into the gaslight.

Jason Hippisley
Market Rasen Mail 19th May 2004 (Lincolnshire Echo)

WHOLLY DEPRESSING BUT BRILLIANT ALL THE SAME!

Common Ground Theatre Company's growing reputation for challenging and sometimes disturbing drama received another hike last week.

In a modern society where careers and livelihoods are regularly ruined by lies and innuendo, Lillian Hellman's acclaimed but rarely staged The Children's Hour is not just horribly plausible but entirely relevant, written in the 1930s but retaining an almost contemporary feel.

Besides Hellman's script, a simple yet attractive set and Vicky Ashberry's advisedly low-key direction - making the moments of violence even more shocking - the show's biggest asset was its cast, with excellent roles for Melissa Corfield and Sheryl Tribe as the beleaguered teachers, Matt Morrissey as the fiance of one of them, and Gaynor Little as the grandmother of one of the schoolgirls.

There was also a totally credible (and just a little unhinged) central performance by Francesca Gugliotta - the girl whose whispered allegations have such a devastating effect - and excellent ensemble playing from all the young actresses involved, including their American accents!

Wholly depressing but hugely enjoyable, this was both a gripping and gruelling piece of theatre, Hellman denying her characters - or the audience - the comfort of a pat ending, and only unpalatable human truths for souvenirs. A brave and brilliant production.

Mike Lyon
Lincoln Chronicle 19th November 2003

 

EMOTIONAL SHOW OF CHARACTER

Intense performances of thought-provoking plays are a proud tradition for Lincoln-based Common Ground Theatre Company, and their latest production, The Children's Hour, is no exception.

Written in 1934, it tells the story of two women who run a school for girls. When one of the girls' relatives acts on a lie her granddaughter tells her, the lives of the two women are ruined.

While the events of the first act are lively and set the scene for the later tragic events, it is the second and third acts where the emotional intensity between the adult characters comes to the fore and playground bullying is magnified into social ostracism in the adult world with devastating consequences.

Audiences will be left deeply moved by this portrayal of the plight of these women.

Karen Parsons
Lincolnshire Echo 13th November 2003

THEATRE NIGHT PROVIDES FOOD FOR THOUGHT

We were promised food for thought and audiences must have left feeling deeply satisfied, if not satiated.

Common Ground Theatre Company's inspired twist on an evening at the theatre gave us plenty to chew over.

Not only were there three very appetising courses of tenderly cooked and perfectly well baked drama, but a first-rate dinner into the bargain.

Chef Ian Smith excelled himself in the kitchen three nights running before jumping on to the stage to perform in the last of three brilliantly written pieces chosen by directors Steve Watters and Su Toogood.

You knew you were poised for an incisive look at life in the opening piece, The Ark, when newly widowed Cecilia observes: "There's more to life than dusting bed springs."

And by bringing sheer talent to the bittersweet and painfully sharp observations of writer Helen Griffin, Gaynor Little, Melissa Corfield and Vicky Ashberry taught us more than a thing or two about life and death.

The three of them, as mother and daughters trying to come to terms with the immediate aftermath of a husband and father's death, painted a perfect picture of grief through shades of light and dark.

Gaynor in particular turned in a most magnetic and compelling performance, which sadly made the following act seem somewhat lacklustre.

Jean McConnell's Shoppers is very cleverly crafted and Juli Charlton and Christine Bellamy performed it brilliantly, with just enough subtlety to merely hint at the suggestion that they were shoplifters rather than spenders.

But in dramatic terms in was merely a snack, to be followed by a light dessert.

A Dog’s Life saw some truly excellent characterisation of dogs by humans to give a profound look at life through canine eyes, asking who gave humans the power to control dogs and why they thought they were God because they walked on their hind legs.

Holly Jackson had few words, but made up for it in actions as an irrepressibly excitable puppy, contrasting with David Stubbs' hang-dog personification of a weary mongrel.

It is perhaps a little disturbing how Jacqui Briggs and Jez Ashberry became their French poodle and German Shepherd dogs so well through their bearing and expressions and it is to be hoped that none are typecast.

Jason Hippisley
Lincolnshire Echo 14th April 2003

 

FIVE-STAR PLAYS ON THE MENU

Deciding to incorporate a substantial supper into their latest production, Common Ground Theatre Company made sure it was varied, well prepared and satisfying. And so was the food.

Food for Thought saw Lincoln’s Croft Street Community Centre transformed into a kind of cultural café, with the audience sitting around the tables where they ate different courses between three one-act plays.

The entrée for the evening, presented in conjunction with Metheringham Players, was The Ark by Helen Griffin, Gaynor Little’s sensitive and utterly believable performance as a middle-aged woman coping with the death of her husband bringing many people to tears. She also received solid support from Melissa Corfield and Vicky Ashberry as her daughters.

The second plays – Shoppers – turned out to be the lowest in calories of the three, Juli Charlton and Christine Bellamy working hard to wring the humour from Jean McConnell’s thin dialogue between two ladies comparing their ‘purchases’ as they wait for a lift home. The final twist was fun but the sketch – perhaps also because it was the shortest – lacked the impact of its culinary companions.

One dessert later came A Dog’s Life by Pam Valentine, a well written piece about four dogs locked in a pound. Their differences in age and nationality made for some neat comic exchanges – at least until the suddenly downbeat and thought-provoking ending.

And there were excellent ensemble performances from David Stubbs, Jacqui Briggs, Jez Ashberry and Holly Jackson as a puppy with a food fixation.

The six-strong cast was completed by Christine Bellamy and company chef Ian Smith coming out of the kitchen to take a neat cameo as the dog warden.

With Su Toogood – who also directed the latter two plays; Steve Watters directed the first – on top form as the MC for the evening, and other company members waiting on tables, this was an ambitious, labour-intensive and totally successful attempt to combine a surprisingly adventurous menu with excellent dramatic and comic interludes. A five-star evening.

Mike Lyon
Lincoln Chronicle 16th April 2003

FRIENDSHIPS FORGED IN TIME OF WAR

Steve Watters directs Lincoln-based Common Ground Theatre Company in an ambitious production of The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan.

The play tells the story of a group of men who volunteered to go to war in 1914 and of the women left behind – around whom most of the action centres.

Although based on historical event of a group of friends from Accrington, their story is true for most areas of the country at that time. The action of the play does not, however, focus on the fighting but instead on the relationships formed between the men and women during those uncertain and often harrowing times.

Vicky Ashberry and Juli Charlton give strong performances as the main characters.

The set recreated the bleak environment, typical of the times, as the backdrop against which the women go about their daily lives. This is effectively brightened at times with the interjection of high-spirited humour provided by the mill girls, played by Su Toogood and Sheryl Tribe.

Expect some loud explosions as the men are follows into no man’s land, providing brief snapshots of life on the front line. Jason Hippisley as Ralph and Patrick Cant as Tom offer just the right balance of humour and humanity as two of the young volunteers.

The director successfully balances the play’s action while providing a touching insight into real people’s lives.

Jo Brown
Lincolnshire Echo 29th November 2002

 

COMPANY SCORES VICTORY WITH WORLD WAR DRAMA

War broke out on the Lincoln stage last week and although the men of Accrington suffered heavy losses, city drama company Common Ground scored a notable victory.

The production saw the small amateur outfit – a theatrical David, just into its second year – bravely square up to The Accrington Pals, a three-hour Goliath spanning comedy, tragedy and everything between, and come out on top.

Peter Whelan’s play is a sprawling work dealing with the slaughter of most of Accrington’s menfolk during the First World War, and the aftermath in which the women of the town had to conduct their own battle to learn the truth.

On a simple but functional set the 10-strong cast not only turned in an impressive showing, bringing real credibility to the script’s everyday banter, but also a range of accomplished individual performances.

Juli Charlton, having made her debut with the company last year, was excellent in the sizeable main role of May Hassal, while Vicky Ashberry caught both the naiveté and worldly wisdom, as well as in one key scene the emotional depth, of mill girl Eva.

There were marvellous roles, too, for Sheryl Tribe and Su Toogood, the latter in particular in scene-stealing mood, especially when delivering one-liners about her husband’s sexual prowess or turning the wide-eyed double-take into an art form.

A special mention must also go to Jason Hippisley, by far the tallest member of the cast, who bravely folded himself up like a concertina to take a dip centre stage in a tin bath no bigger than a kitchen sink.

Some parts of Whelan’s script are a delight – especially those spotlighting the women left behind in Accrington when their men went off to war – although less successful were the more surreal elements, such as May being confronted by the ghost of the man she loved.

Common Ground’s third production since last year, The Accrington Pals confirms the company as welcome reinforcements on the city’s drama front. One can only look forward to their next skirmish.

Mike Lyon
Lincoln Chronicle 4th December 2002

MONOLOGUE MASTERCLASS IN MUNDANE

All human life is here, seen through the eyes, minds and thoughts of three very ordinary women.

Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads are a triumph in observation – turning the mundanity of everyday life into masterpieces that strike at the heart of all our lives.

And at the hands of three accomplished character actresses, Lincoln’s Common Ground Theatre Company gives fresh impetus to these perfectly penned monologues.

Most captivating as she floods us with her stream of consciousness is Gaynor Little, rising to the challenge set by Stephanie Cole to play Muriel in Soldiering On. With wonderful poise and perfect pauses to add weight to her thoughts, she provides a stoical salute to that certain breed of Englishness.

All three performers are so very engaging as they share with us their ideas, doubts and indiscretions.

Vicky Ashberry visibly blossoms as her character Susan, a vicar’s wife, confesses to a sexual liberation fuelled by altar wine among a bed of lentils in a corner shop.

Through her eyes we appreciate the very minutiae of village life, while Christine Bellamy gives us an insight into the life of a net-twitching, letter-writing, angry women who only finds happiness once she lands herself in prison – face to face with ’the enemy’.

Jason Hippisley
Lincolnshire Echo 29th May 2002

AMATEUR DRAMATIC STAGE SUCCESS

A sterling performance was seen on the amateur dramatic stage last night.

The Common Ground Theatre Company’s presentation of Bill Naughton’s Spring and Port Wine went down a storm at St Swithin’s Community Centre, in Croft Street, Lincoln.

In the play a cowering family hide all their small vices from a tyrannical father who rules the roost with a rod of iron.
The despot struggles to deal with the potential havoc the morals of the time can wreak on his clan, but causes more than he bargained for in doing so.

Stars of the show, Wilf (Philip Little) and Betsy-Jane (Gaynor Little), led the troupe in their success and the rest of the cast brought glory to the entire aspiring thespian world.

Carol Webb
Lincolnshire Echo 28th November 2001

 

 

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