Peter Steps In And Is Simply Triumphant
I am sitting among a select group of about twenty people waiting for the preview of Whitefield Garrick’s latest offering Dandy Dick to commence. I’m here because I am intrigued. What has piqued my interest is not the play I am about to watch, but another story which began just under three weeks ago.
Director Garyk Barnett and the team at Whitefield Garrick were four weeks into a seven week rehearsal period for Dandy Dick, a production which had been plagued by difficulties from the outset.
Most people holiday in August, and this is no exception for the cast of this play. Other actors had to be drafted in to ‘read in’ so that rehearsals could continue. One actor had had to drop out just as rehearsals were about to start and been replaced. One character could not be cast as no actor was available to play this part despite every effort by the production team nobody had been found. Eventually two weeks into rehearsals a Facebook appeal had resolved this issue. But what was about to happen made these problems appear decidedly trivial.
With less than three weeks to go, the lead actor was forced on medical advice to quit the play. This was a disaster; in professional theatre it is normal for understudies to be employed in order to mitigate this risk, in amateur theatre understudies simply aren’t available. The society was faced with the reality that cancelling the play was the only viable option.
Production secretary, Patricia Hill, wasn’t so ready to give up though; she had a plan. Hill knew that local actor, Peter Scofield, might just be able to save the play. Scofield had acted professionally in his twenties before joining the police and rising to the rank of Superintendent. He retired a few years ago and since that time he has been prolific in the amateur theatre world acting for Whitefield Garrick, Bolton Little Theatre, Farnworth Little theatre and a number of other societies. Scofield is known for his incredible ability to learn lines in a short space of time, and for his mental discipline and commitment.
Hill contacted Scofield and enquired regarding his availability, the response she received is hard to believe. He informed her that he was currently in rehearsals for a play due to go on the week before Dandy Dick, finishing on the very same day that Whitefield’s play would commence. What was even more unbelievable, however, was that Scofield agreed to take on the role despite his existing commitment.
To put this into context, a typical Whitefield Garrick rehearsal period is 50-70 hours over six or seven weeks. A professional production of similar scale will typically invest two to three working weeks of rehearsals (between 60 and 90 hours). There remained less than 25 hours of rehearsals for Scofield to get up to speed, and only two weeks for him to learn the part. Furthermore, for half of these remaining rehearsals (the most import ones in “tech/dress” week) Scofield would be performing on another stage at Bolton Little Theatre several miles away and would not be able to attend these vital final rehearsals. Surely Scofield had bitten off more than he could chew…
Just over two weeks later, I sat waiting for the preview to begin with curiosity. I had heard on the grapevine that Scofield had performed a miracle, but I wanted to see for myself if it could really be true.
The play, a delightful period comedy opened with Sheba and Salome, the teenaged daughters of Reverend Augustus Jedd, discussing fashion, men and mischief. A nice little sequence which evoked titters from the audience and set the scene nicely.
Sheba and Salome ably portrayed by Gemma Burton and Siân Roberts were delightfully brattish and naïve in a pretentiously upper class manner, giving an instant flavour of the genre of the play. They discussed their positively trivial woes before turning to the subject of boys. Enter Matt Sheader and Jon Walker as the dashing young army officers who would sweep them off their feet. Solid performances from all four actors.
Then the moment I had been waiting for, Scofield entered the stage as Reverend Jedd, Dean of St Marvels. My eyes searched for a concealed script; there was no script just Jedd, a clergyman beset by money worries and the curse of a crumbling church spire, which despite the gravity of the subject, Scofield made hilarious.
Line after line, scene after scene, I was astonished that Scofield showed no hesitation, not even a pause to think of a line; not a single prompt; no hidden script. The character came to life beautifully telling a highly comical tale of misfortune, scandal and of course (spoiler alert) it all works out in the end with husbands for the daughters, money for the spire and a happily-ever-after ending for everyone.
Scofield’s achievement in rescuing this production should in no way detract from the magnificent supporting performances in the form of Jedd’s estranged sister portrayed by Patricia Hill, a long lost school friend played by Whitefiled Garrick veteran Robin Thompson and the dastardly butler in the form of Bob Hopkinson. Emma Ferguson’s cook and Rob Peters’ constable played some cracking scenes, as the not-so-blissful newlyweds. My personal favourite, however, was a cameo by lighting technician Peter Hill who flitted onto the stage several times (between lighting cues) as the hilarious stable boy.
This play is a cracking evening’s entertainment, and I was privileged to be in the audience. It is said of sportspeople that it’s not their performance when they’re at the top of their game that is important. Instead it’s how they manage to pull it out of the bag when everything’s going wrong that makes the difference. This is certainly the case for Whitefield Garrick’s team. It would have been easy to quit when things seemed impossible, but because of the spirit of this incredible group of people and the discipline and talent of an extraordinary man this play is set to be a resounding success.
A huge pat on the back is deserved for Peter Scofield, Patricia Hill, Director Garyk Barnett and the rest of the cast and crew at Whitefield Garrick.
Whitefield Garrick’s next production, The Weir by Connor McPherson, runs from Saturday 17th November until Saturday 24th November.