This was a drama staged outdoors by one family of talented thespians: there were 18 members of the family in the production, from three generations. One of them, Geoffrey Streatfeild, is a professional actor, and he wrote and directed this production. It was performed in the beautiful grounds of Hoath House, near Chiddingstone, on a summer afternoon, to an audience of about 100 people, in showery weather: at one point necessitating a rush for shelter under the nearby large tree.
The plot was neatly constructed around comic caricature characters of 100 years ago, in 1923. The programme explains:
Flat for sale
“Bunbury Towers is a large dilapidated mansion that sits on a cliff top on the south coast of England..the building is divided into a number of apartments, one of which lies empty and is up for sale. But after three long years on the market and no less than 75 unsuccessful viewings, Rodney Sponge, the unfortunate agent tasked with selling the flat, has all but lost his wits.
The problem, it seems, is the other residents – an eclectic bunch of eccentric misfits who, for various reasons, have retreated from the wider world. Fearful that a newcomer might disturb their rural idyll, or indeed expose the secrets held therein, they have developed a uniquely effective method of repelling any interlopers. Under the direction of Lady Bettina Penge, a retired actress, they delight in putting on a show of such batty hostility that those viewing the vacant flat routinely run for the hills. Nothing but nothing must threaten their sanctuary. But have they reckoned with Miss Adelaide Sydney?”
A possible buyer
It is she, a local journalist, who comes to view the flat planning to buy it. But the co-residents take it in turns to engage her with reports and actions designed to put her off.
Each of these involves comic deceptions that are fun to act and fun to watch. There were many claps as each character did their turn. We could tell that the whole piece was written by an actor who knows what works on stage. It was light-hearted, with a touch of pathos from the oldest character (in real life, the patriarch of this whole thespian family) who, every so often, posing as a retired Shakespearian actor, enunciated snatches of Shakespearian lines about death.
In the tradition of English am-dram
I had looked forward to attending this event as an example of the wonderful English tradition of amateur theatre, which spans student plays, local pantomimes, and small British expatriate groups overseas putting on “shows”. A drama produced as a private play in a big house features in Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park” and it is known that this custom of private upper class drama in the Georgian era nurtured Jane Austen’s comic talent. Stand-up comedy is thriving, judging by reviews from the Edinburgh Festival, but can the same be said of amateur drama societies? Are they being killed off by digital media? This would be a pity in the land of Shakespeare and Jane Austen.
This production was put on to raise money for epilepsy research as stated in the programme:
“Epilepsy continues to be a severe illness in the UK, affecting more than 700,000 people and their families. The money you have given to Epilepsy Research UK will be invaluable in funding new research into helping those who suffer. In our family we are all too aware of how much this help is needed.”
The show raised more than £10,000.