“A festive fairytale for grown ups”  (The Times). This was an ambitious and hilarious play the Wylam Amateur Dramatic Society chose this season. 

Recently written by the prolific and popular dramatist John Godber, it may have offended some with its street language, but touched the heart with its message of redemption for all the characters involved and the spirit of Christmas invoked.

The multi-tasking, typical of this drama group, was in evidence again with several members playing two or three parts and successfully transforming themselves with the aid of imaginative costume, accent changes and body language. I particularly enjoyed the physical theatre for which John Godber is well known, in the form of a marionette display when three of the actors, Sue Hall, Gail Lawler and Cicely Chetwood, created a show within the show by the introduction of a lifesize movable puppet theatre.

This play was directed by Sylvia Lumley, a successful writer herself, and conveyed with creative panache the surreal nature of the story which focuses on an A&E department at Christmas. The action centres around “Scary Keith”, the anti-social security guard with ambitions in academia, as he encounters various unfortunate patients and their relatives, and fellow staff members outside the hospital on a cold winter’s night in the run up to Christmas.

Making life for Keith more difficult were Lilly, a determined and rather desperate prostitute, played with gusto by Cicely, a demanding posh lady with an eye patch played movingly by Robin Piette, a racist elderly man whose wife has been take into A&E and is at death’s door, played convincingly by Mark Jones, and Stevo, a hyperactive homophobic drug user played by Richard Bevan who also transforms himself into a clown with a broken arm whose future engagements are now in jeopardy.

The play has qualities of a pantomime with all its colourful characters, even before the scene changes to a bridge in Prague for a Christmas jolly with accompanying fog, mood music and street performers.

For those not familiar with the plot, Scary Keith, played with no holds barred by Alex Russell, has a thing for Kath, played by Sue Nicholson, who is a hard-,working widowed nurse whose husband’s suicide last Xmas is making it doubly hard this time of year for her and for whom we feel greatly.

Keith is unable to declare his affections but secretly buys Kath a trip to Prague for two. Kath decides to take Holly, played in a wonderfully naturalistic way by Lauren Williams, a young nursing colleague, with her.  Keith, in oneof his reveries outside A&E after dealing with various forms of misbehaviour, dreams that he is teaching a group of students about Kafka on a trip to Prague.

He bumps into Kath and Holly and romance ensues. Keith has had a personality transplant and is transformed into nice Keith who becomes attractive to Kath after she has had an encounter with the ghost of her late husband, played by Stan Smith in a touching scene, after which she attains some closure for herself. Meanwhile Holly gets off with a mime artist at a jazz club (Richard again, now in blue!) after dumping her underwhelming boyfriend.

As the curtains open on the fourth act, Keith is sitting again outside A&E with his lips pursed, having just in his mind kissed Kath on the bridge in Prague and we are brought back to earth with a bump as Keith realises that nothing has changed. However, things slightly improve as the elderly man now thinks the Czech doctor who has saved his wife is wonderful rather than an unwanted foreigner, Stevo has had his treatment and Lilly has cheered up.

Keith and “Fat” Alan, his hospital colleague, also played by the versatile Mark Jones, have a cringingly funny and honest exchange of views that reveal that they both have unflattering nicknames, and despite Keith finding out that he is the laughing stock of the department for his Scroogish behaviour and Open University activity, he and the audience is at least bolstered up by the knowledge that he has done a good turn, by giving Kath an anonymous Christmas present which she will enjoy, and we are left wondering whether he really will follow them to Prague and continue with his studying.

The play is full of witty and crude repartee and fast interchanges which are sometimes stereotypical, usually hilarious, and ably performed by the cast who have obviously worked hard to bring this play to glorious and technicolour life. 

As usual, the organisation of the WADS is a real team effort with everyone pitching in to make the front of house and backstage arrangements as efficient as possible with great attention to detail and care for the enjoyment of the audience. The cast also organised the set design and construction, set dressing, costumes, lighting, sound design and effects, props and publicity, and were aided by the commitment of Liz McGlashan operating lights, and Graham Wright on sound operation as well as other members in supporting but essential roles.

I think that this play was a triumph for WADS, as it has a contemporary feel, with relevant issues for today in terms of harassment at work for those in the public service, societal views about immigration, the importance of solidarity in the workplace and caring for each other whatever our differences in difficult times, as well as providing plenty of good old-fashioned gags and giggles.

Well done WADS! What’s next?

By Trish Turnbull