Every December a show comes along to give you a warm glow, a heart-warming, well-crafted piece of theatre.
It doesn’t have to be a professional star-studded, big budget, affair laced with special effects to have the wow factor.
This week’s dream ticket was an amateur theatre company’s production of Cider With Rosie. What made it so special was the way in which it connected with and enchanted its audience. Even as an outsider, I could see the parallels between the Cotswold community in which it was set and the Peak District village of Hope in which it was performed.
This endearing play really brought home the sense of villagers pulling together, celebrating the good times, commiserating in dark days, caring for its frail and elderly residents.
Hope Amateur Dramatic Independent Theatre Company (HADIT) decided to stage the play in honour of the centenary of Laurie Lee whose novel about childhood reminiscences was adapted for the stage by James Roose-Evans.
The staging was minimalist, just a few chairs and a trestle table to symbolise the bed where a young Laurie snuggled up with his mum for warmth and comfort, a chugging charabanc and a merry go-round in which the performers bobbed up and down in time to the music. White sheets and green carpeting symbolised the shift in seasons, from snow-covered hills to a grassy bank.
Falling snow was symbolised by light patterns from a glitter ball, sound effects included gales, screech owl and nightingale and the clanking chain of an escaped goat.
Wassailing carols, ballads and even a dance, all beautifully performed by cast members, were as much a treat for the ear as the production was for the eye.
Adults took on the roles of children, the men wearing knee-length shorts to show legs blackened by the rough and tumble of playing in the dirt, the women looking demure in smocks.
Paul Archer was the epitome of the young Laurie, bringing energy and a zest for life to the character. Laurie’s unbridled joy at his first sexual encounter with the enticing Rosie (a great performance by Jo Elliott) was delightful.
David Garwes as the older, reflective Laurie coped well with the mammoth number of lines he had to deliver. I liked the way in which he mouthed some of the lines while the younger Laurie was speaking and rose from his chair at the side of the stage to pace around the action on stage.
Valda Dagnell gave a touching performance as Ma - the matriarch of the Lee family who showed no favouritism to her six-strong brood even though half of them were stepchildren whose dad had abandoned her. Ma’s scattiness and her passion for collecting china at the expense of putting food on the table caused great hilarity while her love for her family tugged the heart-strings.
This production of Cider With Rosie was amateur theatre at its best. All credit to producer Carolyn Garwes, her 19-strong cast and backstage crew for the show at Hope Methodist Hall which ended its run last night (Friday, December 5).