Folks who know me very well often say, kindly I think, that I should get out more. I’m a grumpy old sod at the best of times and in the world of theatrical reviewing I have ruffled many a feather. Don’t mean to, but I have this incorrigible habit of saying what I think. Fine if I am being praiseworthy but not so nice if I think something stinks. My doctor is giving me tablets in the hope of curing this strange tendency to blog my opinions. Won’t work of course. Opinions are only valid if they are honest. Don’t have to be right, there is no scientific measurement of a theatrical opinion, just have to be genuinely felt. This one is.
I do occasionally get out more. Regularly to Sidmouth, a heavenly Victorian seaside town on the East Devon coast. Been there at least ten times in the last fifteen years or so. I love its Jurassic rocks, rich and red, framing a magnificent bay. I love its old fashioned promenade and its quaint shops. I love its super hotels, The Westcliff, The Victoria, The Belmont, and The Riviera. I love its mild climate and the way all in this place go to sleep at about nine o’clock. And I love its theatre. The Sidmouth Manor Pavilion. Every year Charles and Imogen Vance put on a summer festival of plays. They run from June to September. This year was their 26th season. I have managed to take in a play or two on at least ten of their seasons and over the last few years I have grown to love one of its actors. Next to the late and much lamented R F Delderfield, a novelist who should be up there with Dickens, that actor, James Pellow, must be Sidmouth’s most favourite son.
Mr Pellow has been with Sidmouth for nine seasons and I reckon I have picked up one or two of his performances in at least six of them. He never disappoints, from subtle performances in Rebecca and September Tide to quirky characters in Barefoot in the Park and a magnificent production of Sleuth (2011), he absolutely grips in whatever he does. And when you bear in mind that I am seeing one of an assembly line of portrayals, Summer Rep is like that, it makes them even more amazing. Here is an actor who has to learn and create in a week. This year the Vance season did fourteen plays and he would be in an awful lot of them. He could be forgiven if he just went through a bit of rote line learning coupled with a touch of professional aplomb. Perhaps he does but it doesn’t come over like that. His portrayals have a sincerity and truth that gifted amateurs take months to create and in which many professionals, given the tight Rep schedule, fail. My early experiences of Sidmouth, pre Mr Pellow, frequently saw that. But he reminds me of the late James Hazeldine. He started his acting life at Birmingham Rep in the sixties and I was a regular attendee. He knocked me out for his truthful weekly portrayals in such pot boilers as Hot and Cold in all Rooms and The Farmers Wife. An amazing actor my young reviewing nose thought. Went on to greater fame at the Royal Court and The National Theatre before sadly dying, too young. James Pellow has his gift. Creates a character in five minutes and gives any production essential gravitas. I love Sidmouth and I love its Summer Season at the Manor Pavilion. Especially while it has Mr Pellow.
A late visit to this favourite place this year and just managed to take in Charles and Imogen Vance’s fourteenth of fourteen. J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. That famous play where the smug industrial Birlings get their comeuppance at the hands of a mysterious inspector. Some nice performances, especially Sarah Griffin and Rhys Lawton as the engaged couple whose fragile relationship is increasingly seared by the revelations, and including a strong, if quirky one, from the aggressive leprechaun of Alec Gray’s Inspector Goole. Realistic Edwardian set even if it gave little opportunity for anyone to sit down. Gripping evening and thoroughly enjoyable. And James Pellow? He played Arthur Birling, northern industrialist desperate for his knighthood and continuing respectability. Naked familial emotions counted little against his promised gong. Lovely portrayal. But then his always are. And that is where I came in. Roy Hall