Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

fardale quartet

Joan Wall as Thelma, Debbie Donnelly as Felicity, Christine Bland as Minnie and Sheila Parkes as Mrs Reece.

Chase me up Farndale Avenue,

s’il vous plaît

Hall Green Little Theatre


As theatrical performances go this is one that should have gone long ago, the further away the better, it makes even bad look good. Lines are fumbled, entrances and exits missed, cues a matter of luck and a plot, yes there is one, a mystery to both audience and cast. Abysmal would be a compliment.

But to be fair, and one must always strive to find the positives, it is one of the better productions by The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society, or TFAHETGDS for short, as anyone who has suffered seen previous performances can testify. For a start most of the scenery stayed up and no ambulance was needed.

If the TFAHETGDS can guarantee anything though, it is laughs and in these troubled times when the prices are higher every time you walk in a shop and ovens and boilers have become merely expensive ornaments, that is a priceless commodity.

The cast of five, playing enough characters to make a reasonable stab at Ben Hur, are gloriously inept and that is the difficult bit. Getting it all wrong and messing things up is easy, it takes no skill and the worse the actor the better they usually are at it; the clever trick, though, is getting it all wrong intentionally yet making it look like an unfolding disaster – getting it wrong, right or is it getting it right, wrong?

Whatever! Just making it look wrong demands spot on timing and lots of discipline and the quintet never faltered, well obviously they did, but only when they were supposed to.

So, back to the play, s’il vous plait, and the society have landed in France, gay Paris to be exact, with a sort of farce involving Messrs Parrot, Barrett and Carrot, a secretary, mistresses, various wives, real and pretend, a maid, an errant vacuum cleaner and a rendition of La Marseillaise which, in retaliation, could explain why it is so difficult to travel to France these days.

It is all introduced by the society chairwoman, Mrs Phoebe Reece in a splendid, it’ll be all right on the night, performance from Sheila Parkes. Then there is Thelma, played with a sort of bolshy attitude by Joan Wall. She is . . . Lord only knows.


Thelma with her gift of expensive perfume from her lover, a perfume which has a suspicious look of a bottle of milk on the turn

She somebody's wife . . . or husband, maybe, and she is a plumber at one point, oh, and is none to happy when she discovers her husband in the lighting box is having an affair with the woman on the sound system – also known as a tape recorder – a surgical stocking in the glove box of their car being the tell-tale clue . . . don’t ask. She is also furious her song has been cut – unfortunately she squeezes it back in.

Debbie Donnelly is Felicity, a society member who makes up for her lack of talent with a surfeit of enthusiasm. Much of the first act is made up of her various entrances . . . until eventually she gets one right. Great, incompetent fun.

Then there is Minnie in a delightful performance from Christine Bland. The actress playing . . . whatever the part is, has stormed out and Minnie, from the wardrobe department, with no stage experience or desire to gain any and who doesn’t know the play, the part or the script has bravely/stupidly stepped into the breech.

In trousers and jacket, with a stuck on moustache (drawn on when she lost it) and male wig, script in hand, usually on the wrong page, her expressionless reading (including stage directions), and permanent look of bewilderment along with acting not even within hailing distance of wooden, is comedy gold.

Finally, we have Gordon, the token man, to play Mr whoever and at least one Mrs as the wife of . . . some other Mr or other, perhaps. By this point most of the audience were struggling to remember who they were, let alone who the cast were supposed to be.

Gordon, played by the ever-reliable Jon Richardson, and Thelma, we suspect, are on less than friendly terms, having a row about his eye liner as they enter, but then Thelma is no fan of Mrs Reece either and she doesn’t have anything complimentary to say about Felicity. A trend perhaps? One suspects Thelma does not have a very long Christmas card list.

gordon and minnie

Christine Bland as Minnie and Jon Richardson as Gordon

Now add doors that don’t open, a bathroom door halfway up a wall, missing props and wrong lighting and sound cues, and Mrs Reece's cooking demonstration at the start of Act 2 is almost a welcome relief – or would have been had it not been as disastrous as the play itself.

But that is what the Farndale collection are all about, Amateur, with a capital A, dramatics, where if it can go wrong you can guarantee it will, and if it can’t go wrong . . . Farndale will still manage to prove it can.

Scattered through the script are innocent double entendres, not surprising as one of the writers, David McGillivray, also writes for Julian Clary. His partner for all 10 of the Farndale saga was entertainer, conjurer, drag artist and, in his day job, West Midlands’ barrister, Walter Zerlin Jr, who died of cancer in 2001, aged 51, with Farndale’s Peter Pan unfinished.

The pair both had professional and amateur writing and appearances in their locker and the Farndale collection gently pokes affectionate fun at amateur societies, and some of the characters all societies have probably come across. It is a glorious chance for amateur companies to laugh at themselves, and audiences are more than delighted to join them. Guaranteed chaos and laughs with director Louise Price, keeping everything on a . . . sort of even . . . uneven keel until 29-04-23.

Roger Clarke



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