By Nikki Packham
The title Crooked Wood might suggest gothic horror, but there was the doormat at the foot of the stairs, together with upturned flower pots and the sign telling us we were entering the right house. When I walked into the BLT Bar what I saw was a space filled with good, old furniture, topped by a plethora of knick knacks and lamps, some of the latter with threadbare shades, and a wonderful wind-up gramophone. So the scene was set for a civilised confrontation between old-world manners and philanthropy and new-world greed. The story of nasty property developer and poor old person refusing to leave their life-long home is not new. However, this delicious little gem of a play, based on a TV film called “Number 27” by Michael Palin and adapted and updated by Gillian Plowman, gave this scenario several different twists.
Enter nasty property dealer’s number two, Andrew Veitch, a young man whose lifestyle and that of wife Sally, is clearly based on how much money he could earn by fair means or foul – mainly foul when we first see him trying to persuade Miss Barwick to ‘take the money and run’ so to speak. For me, the delight of the play rests in the fact that we quickly see that Miss Barwick, our 87 year old heroine, has her own agenda and is always one step ahead of the game. Hence she soon has young Mr Veitch eating out of her hand, as he attempts to fix the leaks in the roof and mend the hot water boiler. She also wins over his wife, a young lady dedicated to restoring the best that money can buy and installing it in their new home. Miss Barwick does have one ally, an earnest young man who has chosen to campaign for the likes of Miss B, rather than carry on in the dubious business of estate agency, in which he was once the partner of Mr Veitch. As for Mr Murray Lester, our nasty property dealer, whose combination of first names causes our heroine some confusion, he is warmly welcomed into the home he is so determined to have bulldozed, and whilst he is anxious to get rid of Miss B by fair means or foul, she turns the tables on him very neatly!
The set, designed and constructed by Tony Jenner, lighting and sound design by Jessica-Ann Jenner and costume design by Roxana Graves were well thought out and perfectly complimented the play and the actors. I only wish I had more space to elaborate.
Acting in such an intimate space can be intimidating, but this ensemble was totally at home here. Phil Cairns as Quentin was truly sincere about his mission and reacted well to both his old partner Andrew’s initial superior attitude and his subsequent determination to save properties rather than destroy them. Piers Newman as Andrew Veitch gave us a man safe in his modern world, until humanity slowly emerged under Miss Barwick’s tuition. Jaimi Keemer as Sally Veitch showed the same qualities, though I would have liked a slightly slower delivery and a few pauses whilst she noted the valuable pieces, particularly the japanned chest. Mike Savill as Murray Lester strode through this clutter of memorabilia like an evil Colossus, though a touch of whispered menace would have varied the tone and pace. That said, the audience certainly knew who to hate!
Jan Greenhough as Miss Barwick gave us a woman who looked, moved and spoke as one of her age and class. Her facial expressions were a delight and we felt her joy at having visitors at last and the tender moments with Andrew, who became the son she had never had. However she could also handle Murray Lester with authority and when he refused to help saying “I’ve got a bad back” and she replied “Oh, I haven’t”, it was a line perfectly delivered.
It was obvious that director Jessica-Ann Jenner knew exactly how to build on the story and the actors moved well around the small space. I liked the way they struck props and costumes and coped with quick changes. Jess, you laid the foundations for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.