Stephen Hayter reviews Snails for Starters

Snails for Starters
by Kattreya Scheurer-Smith
performed by Waterbeach Theatre Company
directed by Mark Easterfield

There has never been a time in my six years as the NODA Rep for District 4 North, where it has been anything less than a complete privilege to substitute for Julie Petrucci at the Waterbeach Theatre Company. No sooner had I arrived than I was delighted to discover that the offering this night was an original piece written by cast member and Waterbeach regular Kattreya Scheurer-Smith, an implausibly attractive young lady who I last saw in one the finest pantos ever presented to me. So, Snails for Starters, and I could not have been more excited.

Before I say anything, I must say Miss Scheurer-Smith has a wonderful understanding of dialogue and its delivery. The play she had written sparkled from the onset with credible verbal exchanges between all the main protagonists. The comedy was overt but delicate and the pathos was sudden and arrived with an unobtrusive impact that haunted you afterwards. The plot involved Robert and Juliet, a long-established married couple of this parish who have invited Robert's old school pal (I have no idea why old school is always followed by pal or chum, but I don't make the rules) for dinner. The afore-mentioned 'pal' is in town with his considerably younger girlfriend Imogen. It soon becomes transparently obvious that Carl has ensnared the young lady with a fabric of exaggerations and blatant lies which have every chance of unravelling during the evening. Throw in Carl's daughter from a previous marriage and it had all the makings of a farce. Except it didn't go down that route at all, turning beautifully into something far more subtle.

The set (Design Mark Easterfield) was perfection. The very embodiment of a lounge with staircase perfectly proportioned and beautifully dressed. Lights were understandably unspectacular but did all that they had to do with sound having quite a few cues and some difficult timings. All of which they accomplished without incident. Costumes were completely contemporary with only a rather nice white tuxedo making any great impression. Incidental props were few and caused me no offence whatsoever.

All the characters were crucially important to the plot and the delivery of it, but in the smaller of the roles (by virtue mostly of her late entry into the fray) was Katherine Maltby as Lola the forgotten daughter. Miss Maltby had a hand in some of the comedy, but it was the relationship (or maybe the lack of it) with her father that generated the more thought-provoking exchanges which balanced perfectly with the humour. A faultless performance from a very proficient actress. The bulk of the gags came from, or at the expense of, the young girlfriend Imogen, played by the writer, Kattreya Scheurer-Smith. I spoke to her at length after the production but forgot to ask if she had written the part for herself, or it fell upon her. She is a wonderful actress and delivered a caricature which counter balanced to all the other more understated characters.

I am unsure if I have seen David Morris before at Waterbeach, but this time out he was very involved as the 'Walter Mitty' dreamer, Carl. A solid performance with only an altercation with Inuit and an Eskimo slowing him down. I would be lying if I didn't admit to wondering a little about the physical casting of the part. Even with the Alleged jets and bank accounts, Carl and Imogen seemed an unlikely couple... but then I thought of Donald and Ivanka and it troubled me no more.

As mentioned above, the dialogue in this production was effervescent. And I pondered long and hard as to whether the writer was a genius or those words of hers had just been given to two supremely gifted actors. I guess it was a bit of both, but as the trusty old favourite cardigan (with chunky leather buttons) of a husband, Robert, Stephen Smith did not put a foot wrong. His effortless style was a perfect fit with his on-stage wife and the abstract conversations they had seemed completely believable and, whilst married couples don't really have those types of conversations, we all wish we did. A brilliant performance from a superb actor who was perfectly cast.

If I were ever to find myself teaching an acting class (..we have a woman Doctor Who so strange things do happen), I would list to my students the golden rules of amateur acting to demonstrate the do's and don'ts of a good performance. At number three would quite simply be "Don't go on stage with Christine Easterfield" This is important advice for anyone considering amateur acting because, no matter how good you are, there is absolutely no doubt you will look ordinary by comparison. As the quite bland and not at all long-suffering wife, Juliet, Mrs Easterfield was sublime. I could go on (as I have before) about her many, many talents but I will bundle all of that up in this anecdote from the night I saw the play. Her mobile phone was being used as a prop, vibrated during a scene, Awkward I thought but she never turned a hair and stopped it. Twenty seconds later it went off again and she dealt with it with equal confidence. Now, contrary to popular opinion, I am no fool. I have also seen a lot of stage-craft tricks and am hardly ever fooled, but five minutes later, when I realised it was part of the story and completely intentional. The realistic way she handled and concealed the call was breath-taking. It was acting, but it just looked like it wasn't. She is just about the finest drama actress I have seen anywhere and, as I have noted before, always plays perfectly within her range. It will come as no surprise that penultimate paragraph honours are hers, and hers alone.

Again, to precis my review of the director Mark Easterfield, I said to him afterwards that the whole production did not look like it had been directed at all. It looked for all the world that it had just arrived in an Amazon package and was rolled out like some perfect little bundle. The technical direction was exemplary which (as we all know) is never easy with a play where nothing much happens. The small amount of technical stuff required for this production was also delivered to a very high standard. My compliments to Mr Easterfield and all the cast and crew for a remarkable production. I believe this was Kattreya Scheurer-Smith's first full length play and she should be strongly advised to push forward with this side of her art. It was in every way a complete corker!

Stephen P. E. Hayter.
(District Representative - NODA Eastern Region - District 4 North)

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