A Rustling of Laughter – Theatre Review

I Thought I Heard a Rustling

By The Lichfield Players

Lichfield Garrick Studio Theatre

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Review – By Jono Oates

When I was young (a long, long time ago!!) I remember the family huddled round the old black and white television in our lounge (we were the last family in the street to have a colour TV as my Dad said they were ‘overpriced and a passing fad…’) and watching a comedian called Jimmy James doing a wonderful comedy sketch on a Saturday night variety show with his sidekick, the gloriously lugubrious Eli Woods, and involving a box. No matter how ridiculous the sketch, or James’ quips, Woods’ face did not flinch or show any emotion of any kind…he was the straightest of all the straight men!

So, as I watched the Alan Plater play ‘I Thought I Heard a Rustling’ last night, in the cosy and compact surroundings of the Studio theatre at the Garrick, the Jimmy James box sketch gets a mention (and provides the play title) and I found myself transported back to that 1960s lounge, the old television set and my brothers and sister, and my late mum and dad, all laughing out loud at the Woods and James double act. And that, in a nutshell, is what I love about local theatre, what I love about amateur dramatic shows and what I love about live performances – it is that ability to transport you back in time, back to your childhood, back to happier times, back to the ‘good old days’ of our youth…that scene last night was, to me, worth the admission price alone.

What was also wonderful was that, after an enforced break, the Lichfield Players were back on stage, and back at the Garrick – hurrah! The play was written by noted playwright Alan Plater, responsible for many TV scripts between the 1960s and 1990s including Z Cars and the Biederbecke Trilogy starring Barbara Flynn and James Bolam. Rustling was first performed in 1991 at the Theatre Royal in London.

The play is set in a small provincial library and concerns the appointment of a newly-created Writer in Residence, called Bill Robson, by the local council. Robson shares desk-space in the office of long-serving librarian Ellen, who is not best pleased to have someone invading her space and getting in her way, especially as she takes a dislike to Bill from the outset. Equally displeased is a local journalist, but wannabe writer, Nutley, who really wanted to have the role of Writer in Residence himself.

Robson is a straight-talking Geordie, and former coal miner, who has strong views about politics and the struggles of the working classes which, again, brings him in to conflict with Ellen. Bill has been appointed to his new role by the local council, using funding monies, and it is a ‘hung’ council with all three main parties, Labour, Conservatives and Liberals, having an equal share in the control of the council, and hence the library. Spokesperson for the council, Councillor Graham, is therefore caught up in the battle between the squabbling Bill and Ellen, while also trying to maintain the delicate balance of three political parties squabbling about how the council, and library, should be operated.

Although initially resentful towards Bill, Ellen eventually develops a grudging respect for him, and Nutley also has to rely on Bill to proofread his trilogy of unpublished books which he hopes will allow him to leave journalism for good and to write books professionally.

When Ellen discovers that Bill is not the man that he claims to be, and a shocking revelation comes to light about the library itself, the three warring parties find that they have a common bond – and a common enemy to take on!

The script is witty, clever and bright and will resonate with anyone who has had dealing with local councils, from either side of the fence. The ridiculous nature of the library and council controlled by the triumvirate of political parties, is very cleverly and skilfully exposed by Plater, and all it will ring bells with every member of the audience. There is one very clever twisting of the play’s original lines to echo one of the current local council’s most contentious ideas of recent times which received a great reception last night – after hearing it you might well want to recycle the joke later…

Ian Davies as Geordie Bill is very funny, and maintains the accent throughout, Denise Baker as his adversary-turned-collaborator Ellen is very good as his sparring partner and Stefan Dufaye is the frustrated journo-aspiring-author Nutley with a nicely understated part, counter-balancing the more outrageous antics of Bill. Lin Neale (a new recruit the Players team this year) is super as the ‘caught-between-three-chairs’ councillor, contorting her expressions wonderfully as she tries to extricate herself from the tangled web of local council pollical correctness. Maurice Allden provides support as the lugubrious (twice in one review – I love that word!) Bernard, who comes to measure up the floor and the doors of the library, using a tape measure that switches between metric and imperial with alarming ease.

Experienced director Sarah Stanley provides a very light touch, perfectly suited to the balance and style of the play, and the set design and contents has some quirky and funny props which Bill, of course, has to utilise!

This is a charming, witty, funny and evocative play, there are lots of funny lines and comic situations and perfectly lampoons the absurdity of local government, creating scenes that all of us can easily recognise and giggle at, wherever we are in the country. A perfect evening’s entertainment, and leaving you with a more than generous rustling of laughter and mirth – and possibly transport you back to the old black and white entertainment of your childhood too!

I Thought I Heard a Rustling by the Lichfield Players is on at the Lichfield Garrick Studio from 25 to 28 May 2022, performance starts at 7.45pm Wednesday to Saturday, with a matinee performance on Saturday 28, starting at 2.45pm. Ticket prices start from £15 and are available from the Garrick Theatre, ring 01543 412121 or book online at:

https://www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/all-shows/i-thought-i-heard-a-rustling/2866

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