If this is the talent the society (both old and new) has to offer before the Christmas term has ended, then 2016 certainly looks bright for SUSU Theatre Group.
SUSU Theatre Group are taking the Annex stage by storm this week with Ken Ludwig’s comedy murder mystery The Game’s Afoot, featuring a spellbinding cast and offering up some of the biggest talent the society has seen. Following the success of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing was an unquestionable challenge for them, but the cast and production team took the play by its reigns and kept the society’s standard on a much needed high; and all on opening night.
William Shere dominates the stage as William Gillette, playing the perfect party host attempting to control the chaos surrounding him. Unfortunately for Shere, the character’s comedy comes across more subtly than with the likes of Simon (Robin Harris) and Felix (Jamie Martin), who deliver their comedy to a near perfect standard. However, this does not dampen Shere’s performance; it only gives his character a softer edge, which is arguably a nice contrast to the gut-busting comedy throughout. I enjoyed Shere’s softer take on Gillette and it was refreshing to see him take to the stage so confidently, especially in some of the end scenes.
I am torn between deciding who the stand out actor is. Ellie-Rose Fowler plays the genius Martha with flawless comic timing and effortless characterisation. I never fail to enjoy watching Fowler dominate the stage; she manages to upstage (in a positive way) regardless of what character she plays and consistently brings a professional standard. Fowler gains laughter with nearly every line delivered and sustains the character throughout.
The standout male actor for me has to be Robin Harris. Harris is wonderful as the Ukulele playing, loveable rogue and teases the audience with comedy and flair from the moment the house lights are dropped. He blends hilarity with intensity and has the audience eating out of the palm of his hands. I was certainly excited to see Harris shine so impeccably -the future is evidently bright. As for Naida Allen (Aggie), I was only told of her illness at the interval of the play, and was delighted that I had not even noticed. Combine this with the fact that it was an opening night performance, and this obviously talented newcomer should be very proud of her work.
Jamie Martin also excels as Felix, delivering the perfect balance between the serious and comic moments. Comedy is clearly where Martin’s strength lies, it is addictive watching him and Shere dominate the action in Act 2. His genius pairing with new face Francesca Scanella (Madge) provides the perfect husband and wife comedy, and I cannot wait to see them in more. Scanella deserves particular mention for the possession scene, an arguably difficult moment to portray, which can come across amateurishly if not mastered.
Each actor bounces off their respective partner impeccably, with particular mention to Shere and Fowler for such a believable and hilarious Mother and Son relationship. I was particularly impressed by the way in which all the actors both amused and frightened me in the same hour, especially when the plot took a more sinister turn.
Cat Lewis (Daria) continues to shine, playing a refreshingly fiery and different character to what I have seen her play in the past. Lewis delivers her lines faultlessly and warmed to the character as the play went on. Rachel Harden (Inspector Goring) mirrors this as a latecomer to the action, providing continuing comic relief for some of the darker scenes. I originally questioned the British accent, but felt this was to enhance the comedy of her character even further.
Minor opening night issues let the standards slip, but this is always inevitable for a first performance. This included a few stumbled lines and cue issues. A few subtle moments in the direction were lost too, for example the use of the dial on the 1930’s phone was absent: the actors merely pressed the buttons. I also felt that the Christmas tree could be moved to a more prominent position such as upstage left, but this would of course affect the blocking for some of the more intricate scenes; it just felt like a shame that I only noticed it towards the end of Act 2. The diverse and complicated set and props deserve credit though and it’s clearly a complicated space to move around after only having one night’s practise in. The striking costumes combined with this intricate set mean that the producers deserve high praise.
It is clear that this is a show to be seen and that Ruth Endersby and Alex Mazare did a fantastic job directing. For the tricky medium that is comedy, I am certainly impressed.
The Game’s Afoot is at the Annex Theatre at 7:30pm until 12th December. Tickets can be reserved here.