Thursday 23 November 2023

 "Volunteers" by Beeston Players

Round Hill School, Beeston.

Here we have a gentle comedy set in a charity shop, staffed by volunteers. Brenda is running the charity shop, with the slightly confused Prue and the sight-impaired Denny. But there are changes in the charity and John Turk is keen on a new image - younger staff. Brenda has to cope with her customers, a community service offender and the new regime, how will she do? One way to find out!
I'll readily admit that I love going around the charity shops, especially in Beeston, so this comedy is right up my street, and I've seen all of these characters - bar one - in the charity shops wherever I go.

Brenda is played by Laura Burke, and the character is spot on. I love the slightly hippyish image, complete with green leg warmers. Laura has got the "official" stance just right, balancing the manager mode with being a friend to her volunteer staff, sticking up for their rights with the new CEO.
Prue is played by Alison Williams, and like all the actors, aptly cast. There is a make over with Prue, and I was expecting something more outrageous, especially when it's been done by Leanne, but what we got was a more classy, smarter image for Prue which suited the character down to the ground. Prue has a wonderfully imaginative mind and I love the malapropisms from Prue.

Denny is played by Gwen Murray. Never forgetting to get her magnifying glass out to check the prices on the labels, I've seen so many Dennys and they always make me smile. The back stories for these ladies have a lovely feel to them, and especially with Denny and her husband.
Leanne is played by Sue Frost. Leanne is on the community service programme and we first see this leather clad punk and automatically, just like the ladies who currently volunteer, think she is trouble. Nothing could be farther from the truth and it's lovely to see the unwrapping of the real character as she gives Prue a make over and looks after the ladies of experience, fitting in with everyone. There's a lovely scene with one of the customers where she blows their little returns scheme wide open.
The Area Manager, Claire, is played by Nicola Adkin who is completely besotted by John and is pushing his scheme to create a younger image for charity shops. We even get a snatch of Take That as she shows a younger image herself, but the course of true love never does run smooth.
John, the CEO of the charity, is played by Paul Langston, and John may not be quite the high flying CEO that he is trying to project, and the reveal will leave winners and losers as his revelation ripples with the workers.
One of the customers is always haggling, trying to get a discount by any means possible, and is played by Maxine Taylor. I love this character because I've stood behind this character in shops many times.
And then there's that woman who buys clothes, wears them once and then returns them and swaps them for something else. She is played by Sarah Nicholson who is wonderful at taking umbrage when confronted as to why she wants to return the goods that she had bought just the week before. Oh yes, we've all seen these type of customer!
The amateur dramatic who is shopping for costumes for their next production is played by Gary Frost. Wonderfully camp in the physical look and attitude and a lovely fun character. Again, I've seen this character in charity shops, not quite dressed in vivid pink, sporting a beret and cravat, but easily recognisable.
The other two customers are played by Ali Parnham and Margaret Jones who flesh out, what is quite a big cast for Beeston Players.
There's also a male character whose appearance is more than a flash in the pan, so to speak. He is played by Ian Greatorex.
You immediately warm to all of these characters, especially when you relate them to the ones you've seen in real life. They make me smile while out shopping, and seeing the same characters on stage automatically make for a fun piece of theatre.
Directed by Tom Jenkins, there were bits in the first act that needed just a little tightening up and, with Stage Manager, Kevin Fairbrother, could shave a few minutes off of the duration; don't worry it's not a long play. It's a minor note that does not affect the flow of the comedy but could up the pace just slightly. Apart from this tiny, tiny observation, I loved every thing about "Volunteers".
The set is designed by Sam Williams is just perfect. The rails of clothes, that can't be moved just in case Denny has an accident, the shelving full of hats, sunglasses, trinkets, shoes, bric a brac, DVDs, CDs, toys, ornaments, practically everything that you'd expect to see in a pre loved shop. Even down to the "no entry to the public" sign and the notice board and artwork. A brilliantly designed and sourced set.
Lighting is by Nina Tunnicliff. Keeping it simple with fade out and fade in with the scene changes achieves just what is required.
Sound, and sound effects is by Sam Williams. No issues here. Everything as it should be, nothing missed or out of place.
A wonderful cast who I know are enjoying performing this play. The writer, Hilary Mackelden, has obviously observed characters like these in shops and has created a play full of inoffensive humour filled characters which has been taken to the hearts of this cast and everyone involved. You can feel the love behind this production, but that is typical of Beeston Players' choice of productions.
As usual, a really accommodating FOH team who also provide the refreshments, raffle and everything else.
If you've never seen anything by Beeston Players before, go and see this and I know that you'll be hooked on their productions and staff.
"Volunteers" is at Round Hill School until Saturday 25 November where there is a matinee performance at 2.30.

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