Amateur dramatics group Woodhouse Players give a chance to new directors
Woodhouse Players is an award-winning theatre group based in Leytonstone which is very well regarded in the amateur world.
Key to maintaining their high standards is the selection of plays, and consequently the attraction to adopt works by established writers must be strong. So why take the chance with a new writer and then allow them to make their directorial debut? From such decisions disasters can occur, or at least disappointments.
Enter David Flanagan, who wrote and directed Allies in the Ardennes for six performances in July at the Welsh Church Hall in Leytonstone High Road. His day job is in the NHS, working on data quality, and he’s also studying for a further degree. In addition to acting classes and being a volunteer guide at the Cabinet War Rooms museum, David wrote Allies over two years. It was during this time that he joined Woodhouse Players and took roles in several of its productions. He then decided this year it was time to make his play “come alive”.
Steve Cahill-Hayes, chairman of Woodhouse Players, explained how the group came to perform the piece: “We’re very democratic and open. Anyone with a play can ‘pitch it’ for inclusion and indeed anyone can audition for any part.”
David’s play impressed, as did his ideas and vision for the performances, so after being named director he identified his support team, organised auditions, and commenced rehearsals. The play is set within the backdrop of the Ardennes offensive in the Second World War, often called the ‘Battle of the Bulge’.
Audience members meet the happy-go-lucky English soldier Frank, and American Jack, who are hiding from Germans in a forest. Through their interactions and flashbacks set in London, we learn about the great losses in Frank’s life – a father damaged by the First World War who eventually commits suicide, the deaths of his wife Lily and his best friend Arthur. Frank’s earlier optimism and energy turned to cynicism.
Later the pair are saved by a German deserter and all three find a Belgian farmhouse occupied by Leo and Madeleine, and it is the latter who offers Frank compassion for his despair and a possible way forward. But can he take it?
It is the final and very moving scene that massively strengthens the play. Several years after the war Frank and Arthur’s wife Mary meet near the park bench where Frank had first met Lily and we learn that she is trying to move on. She offers Arthur’s cap to Frank but soon takes it back, indicating that she hasn’t moved very far. But what of Frank? The play ends with him still desolate and damaged by the war looking into the unknown quite lost – perhaps in similar fashion to his father.
David explained his choice of context and ambitions for the play: “I have always been interested in the Second World War and the changes it made to people’s attitudes and beliefs. I wanted to make my characters interesting and for the audience to empathise with Frank’s tragedy.”
The sold-out play was very well received by its audiences, and all the actors offer convincing and thoughtful performances. Ciara Murray as Lily and Jane Speare probably took the plaudits but Sharon Trotter as Luciette was strong, as was Danielle Keene’s playing of Mary. Chris Green as Frank reflected the authors’ intentions admirably while debutante actors Liam Flanagan and James Calton together with the far more experienced Phil Braithwaite and Tom Cannon played their roles with conviction and no little skill. Meanwhile the ‘nasty’ Germans were commendably nasty.
This is a good play and as one of the more experienced actors suggested, it has a strong foothold on the path to professional standard. It was certainly entertaining, moving and indeed informative. There was also humour and clever devices such as the reappearance of Lily as a ghost.
But what of David as director? All the actors interviewed had nothing but praise for David’s ability to share his vision for the play and to help them realise it. Steve Cahill-Hayes sums it up: “We are very pleased with the success of Allies and very proud to champion new talent. Here this certainly paid off.”
The next play being performed by Woodhouse Players is Audacity, written by Simon Mawdsley, on the 8th, 9th, 15th, and 16th September. For more information and to book tickets: