© Redlynch Players 2020
Reviews for Return to Thrush Green by Ron Perry.
Performed with Fordingbridge Players - November 2019
Anne Waggot - Scene One Plus
Community theatre can be many different things to many different people, and may be defined as “theatre made by and intended for members of a community”. In this instance, it is a collaboration between two well established local drama groups, Fordingbridge Players and Redlynch Players, to perform to their friends, families and loyal supporters the world premiere of this play by Redlynch Players’ own Ron Perry – and it has provided for the community a very amusing evening of comical entertainment, much needed in the current climate!
Return To Thrush Green is the sequel to Perry’s previous original adaptation of Miss Read’s Thrush Green novels, a catch up with the residents of the fictional Cotswolds village of Thrush Green. As I hadn’t seen the original play, or read any of these novels, I was a little apprehensive beforehand that I would spend most of Act 1 wondering what on earth was going on. I needn’t have worried! Although the script makes reference to the previous production – at least, with some of the dialogue, I presume this to be the case – the narrative flows, the characters are easy to follow (assisted by individuals breaking from the character conversations to provide the audience in an aside with a brief insight into who each character is and their connection to Thrush Green) and the production stands on its own merits.
There is so much to enjoy in this essentially light hearted, but at times poignant, comedy – not least the delightful original music performed at the start of the play (‘The Power Of Healing’, written and performed by Andrew Harrison-King). Although this is a very cohesive joint venture between the actors from both groups of Players, there are a few absolutely stand out performances.
Without ever stealing focus from the others, Jill Saunders nevertheless manages to steal every scene she’s in as “I don’t know why they call me” Dotty Harmer – her comic timing and physicality are hilarious, but she also shows a vulnerability in her character which is both enchanting and endearing. Nicki Salmond commands the stage with the authority she brings to haughty and precise Mrs Cleary, while bringing warmth and gentleness to her cameo appearance as primary school teacher Miss Dorothy Watson.
There is excellent support in particular from Graham Simpson (amiable and committed Rev’d Charles Henstock), Sarah Turner (bustling and seemingly efficient church warden, Mrs Ena White, despite her propensity for malapropisms), Ali Silver (stalwart Ella Bembridge), Sarah Newman (amorous and single-minded widow Nelly Tilling) and Mark Newman as the postman, Willie Bond, who would never, ever be a source of gossip!
Special mention and credit should go to Wendy Reid as, due to cast illness, she stepped in to read the part of Ella Bembridge’s housemate, Dimity Dean; it is quite a skill to portray a character convincingly whilst reading from a script, but Reid managed this with style, crystal clear dialogue delivered in an authentic manner and with a natural flow of accompanying movement.
Staged in St Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge, the set blends the Cotswold stone effect cottage fronts with the stone arches inside the church, enhanced with the addition of AstroTurf to cover the floor of the aisles, and the chorister pews and altar, atmospherically lit, provide a beautifully effective backdrop to transport the audience to a quaint 1950-1960s village green. There is a great attention to detail with the array of props, costumes, rural or clipped accents and manner of speaking, and hair and makeup, to firmly establish the time setting and geographical location, while the use of the changing posts on the village notice board clarified the years and locations with a very nice touch. The combination of live organ music on entering the church, cast members mingling in character with the audience, community hymn singing extracts at the start, an audience raffle and the quaint sweet stall and ‘Two Pheasants’ beverages during the interval all help to immerse the audience in the charming venue of Thrush Green.
Brian Oliver - NODA
A joint production by Redlynch Players and Fordingbridge Players, “Return to Thrush Green” is the second play that director Ron Perry has adapted from the “Thrush Green” Series of books written by Miss Read, the pen name of Dora Saint.
Ron Perry’s original play told the story of Mrs Curdle’s annual May Fair. Several years have now past and the story moves on. The Fair is now run by Ben Curdle and his wife Molly, however business is not good, therefore they considering selling the fair and looking for work and a permanent home in Thrush Green, where Ben and Molly met and where her father still lives.
A very impressive set had been constructed in the knave of the church, which created the effect of a village green surrounded by houses, with the magnificent looking church organ stage left. The church organist was playing as we entered the church which gave a wonderful atmosphere to the venue.
The play opens as the parishioners of St Andrew’s church, Thrush Green are singing the closing hymn at the end of the Sunday morning service. This is followed by the Vicar reading the parish notices and we begin to meet all the wonderful characters who reside in the village of Thrush Green.
This story line was very light hearted and easy to follow, the change of scenes flowed easily with little distraction with lovely musical interludes. There was some wonderful comedy within the script which allowed Jill Saunders (Dotty Harmer) and Mark Newman (Willie Bond) to shine and to steal each scene that they were in, two outstanding performances. There were also fine performance elsewhere in the cast, my favourites being Sarah Newman (Nelly Tilling) and Ali Silver (Ella Bembridge). A special mention must go to the lady, I missed her name when it was announced, who went on with script in hand, to play part of Dimity Dean, to cover for the illness of a cast member. I thought that she was excellent, very impressive.
Towards the end of the second act there was a very funny scene, where the vicar was trying to propose to Dimity, whilst the same time Tilly was trying persuade Albert to let her move in. I thought that the delivery and the timing was superb and that it was a very clever bit of writing.
When I noticed the organist take up his position, I was expecting the final scene to be a double wedding with some fine organ music, but it was if fact the Christening of the latest member of the Thrush Green community that brought the play to a suitable end. It did leave me wondering whether Ron Perry is already planning a further play about the wonderful characters of Thrush Green?
An excellent production that was very enjoyable