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Sidmouth Manor Pavilion Theatre - An Inspector Calls (with James Pellow)

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 ...

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Sidmouth Manor Pavilion Theatre - Private Lives


There is a little theatrical gem down on the East Devon coast that is known only to a few of us. It’s the Sidmouth Manor Pavilion Theatre located, unsurprisingly, in Sidmouth. Regular readers, I have a few, will know that this is my favourite seaside place in all of England. John Betjeman quite liked it and renowned novelist R.F.Delderfield lived here. And further back, 1820 or thereabouts, Queen Victoria’s dad succumbed to life’s travails just up the road from where the theatre now stands. I could say popped his clogs but that would be disrespectful and the one thing you never do in Sidmouth is disrespect. Very civilised, very beautiful, very calming. And for all of the summer it offers week after week of differing plays, twelve of them, at the Manor Pavilion. Producer Paul Taylor-Mills bills it as the last standing professional weekly Rep in England. He may well be right but whether he is or not I hope he continues with the late Charles Vance tradition. Sidmouth is very special to me and many others. Dipping into the Rep on a holiday evening adds nicely to it.

Well that’s the nice and cosy bit over, now to cut to the Coleman’s. Caught the last of those twelve plays at the scrag end of the holiday season. Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Seen it umpteen times and considered a Coward masterpiece, even if for me it slips in a little way behind Hay Fever. Neither has much of a plot but the latter has dafter characters. But familiar or not you go to Sidmouth and just be grateful that the season is still going. I say that because the Pavilion Rep Company are pretty good, outstanding if you consider their hectic rehearsal schedule. The sets were sumptuous, especially the glorious French flat, some of the costumes less so. Elyot and Amanda’s night attire suggested more modern London bedsit than elegant 1930’s chic. And whilst I can just about forgive matches for cigarette lighting on hotel balconies I reckon that upmarket flat would have stretched to a posh and glassy table lighter. Lit matches jarred.

But the actors sparred with both verbal and physical aplomb and lashings of professional pace. Jonathan Ray did a fine job as a slightly manic Elyot Chase, Hannah Vesty was a spiky Amanda Prynne and Chris Kiely, arms comically akimbo at every stressful moment, an engaging Victor Prynne. But the best performance from Coward’s famous honeymooning quartet came from Jessica Kent’s thwarted and dumped Sybil Chase. She fluttered, posed, and screamed in elegant and equal proportions. Miss Kent was a well crafted self centred irritant who played her part to the hilt without ever going over the top. The cast was completed by Daniele Coombe’s eccentric maid. Her sneezing Louise had clearly been round the block a few times and the quirky portrayal, suited to this production, made an indelible mark.

I am still puzzled as to why a bright summer morning needed internal lights in Act Three; the lighting was generally so good I can only assume it was intentional. Andrew Beckett directed with an eye on the physical comedy which would not totally please the Coward purists. But he did it on a stunning set, undeservedly not credited in the programme, and with a cast firing on all cylinders in pace and delivery. A jolly evening from Sidmouth’s little theatrical gem. And that, as they say, is where I came in.

In 2012 I reviewed the company's An Inspector Calls mainly as a homage to James Pellow, a super Sidmouth player. Unsurprisingly he was not in Private Lives but click on the link above and you can read or refresh my views on him. Revered in Sidmouth and worthy of greater fame. Roy Hall