With the greasepaint barely rubbed off following their performances at last month’s Dart Drama Festival, the Ditsum Players are getting ready to tread the boards again.
But December’s foray into the spotlights for Dittisham’s local acting troupe comes with a twist. The play they’re performing next begins in a black-out!
The one-act farce Black Comedy, by Peter Shaffer, takes place during a power cut. The play opens as characters get ready for a party in a London flat –but then a mains fuse blows and chaos ensues. Because the play works on a ‘reverse lighting’ system, the stage is brightly-lit as soon as the ‘power-cut’ happens, which means the actors are stumbling around as if they’re in darkness. ‘That’s actually much harder to do than you’d imagine,’ says director Linda Cookson. ‘So it’s just as well that there are plenty of bright sparks in the cast!’
It’s also just as well that the Ditsum Players are able to call on their popular Chairman, Paul Vincent, to mastermind the lighting plot. Guest Director of this summer’s Inn Theatre production of Twelfth Night at Dartmouth Castle and veteran of Rediffusion TV from its ‘Ready Steady Go’ heyday, Vincent has a trick or two up his sleeve to make the evening go with a bang. ‘Paul’s just brilliant,’ says Cookson. ‘Give him a lighting-board and a couple of lanterns, and he could sort out the next Olympic fireworks.’
Lighting isn’t the only challenge. Black Comedy was first performed at the Chichester Festival Theatre before transferring to London’s Old Vic. For a full-size working theatre, the play’s set requirements of an upstairs acting area and a trapdoor into a basement are nothing too out of the ordinary. In a pint-sized venue like Dittisham Village Hall, a fair bit of creative thinking is called for.
‘Yes, I guess we could have made things easier for ourselves!’ laughs Cookson. ‘But it’s a fantastically funny play, and worth a bit of extra trouble. Besides, we’re really mega-lucky with local talent.’ Designer Jon Pusey, who lives in the village, has a distinguished BBC pedigree. He was Production Designer on Dartmouth’s favourite 1970s’ TV serial The Onedin Line – which featured Bayard’s Cove. ‘Jon’s worked miracles,’ says Cookson. ‘Talk about getting a quart into a pint pot…he’s produced an amazing design. Plus we’ve got some ace builders in the village – including one in the cast - who’ll help with the build!’
Black Comedy was first performed in 1965, starring Derek Jacobi and Maggie Smith (‘Big boots to fill,’ admits Cookson. ‘But hey…’), and the 1960s setting is proving great fun. ‘The props people have got the whole village searching in its collective attic for various bits of paraphernalia … soda-syphons, cradle-phones, ancient record-players – you name it!’
Cookson has lived in Dittisham since 1999. Now a freelance travel writer, she worked for 20 years as Assistant Principal at London’s prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama (now part of London University). Her theatrical background includes writing and presenting an 8-part BBC Radio 4 series Shakespeare at the RSC, as well as a directing a community radio play for Radio 4, with a 55-strong cast.
‘I must admit,’ she says, ‘I chose this play because I liked the idea of working with a small cast, just for a change.’ Her previous credits with the Ditsum Players include joint productions, with Paul Vincent, of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (‘In the village church, with lots of non-communion wine afterwards - Magic!’) and an ambitious Shakespeare in the Garden project, which also ended up in the church – though not by design. (‘It was July – and we were all set to perform in a beautiful local garden. But then the rain came down in stair-rods.’)
Both of these productions had casts of well over 30. ‘In Black Comedy, there are only 8 acting parts,’ she acknowledges. ‘But once you’ve factored in the production and front-of-house teams, we’re still involving something like a fifth of our permanent population. Not to mention our willing band of cooks! The play’s being staged cabaret-style, with supper included in the ticket price.’
‘The whole thing,’ says Cookson, ‘should be a bit of a party… a fun night out. We’re hoping for two things. That as many people as possible will come to watch the play and enjoy the food. And – most important of all - that we don’t get a real power-cut! Now THAT would really tax us!’ •
First Published December 2012 By The Dart