DramaNorth WestReview

The Card – Fenton Town Hall, Stoke on Trent

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Arnold Bennett

Adaptor: Deborah McAndrew

Director: Conrad Nelson

It’s difficult to imagine a more successful fusion of the different elements that make up a play than Claybody Theatre’s The Card. There’s the original novel of course, a delightfully comical account by Arnold Bennett of the stages by which Edward Henry (Denry) Machin rises from poverty to become Bursley’s youngest Mayor.

Deborah McAndrew’s adaptation leaves very little out of Denry’s trickery, from the moment when the 2022 Mayor introduces the sculptor who has fashioned his likeness, the cloth is thrown back – and there is Denry, in typically cheeky pose. Then we’re off, one scene eliding into the next, until something over two hours later Denry enters triumphantly wearing the same mayoral robes.

Then there’s the venue. Conrad Nelson has taken the Ballroom of Fenton Town Hall, a splendid space well equipped with doors and with a stage at the far end. Claybody rank four rows of seats down each side, giving the audience a full-on view of the cast as they march, pirouette and swirl through the events of the play. Racing children nearly tread on the toes of the front row and on the stage is the Bursley Town Band – otherwise known as Acceler8 Brass Band, led by Jef Sparkes.

The band, whether playing for a civic function or marching up and down at the seaside or a political rally, is superb, gloriously expansive on old band favourites, slipping in one or two new compositions by Conrad Nelson, and with their role enlarged by a few instrumental flourishes from members of the cast, arranged by Rebekah Hughes.

The professional cast of seven is supplemented by a community company of nearly 30, given in some cases plenty to do, from singing songs to heaving on the rope to save a ship on the rocks (Denry takes advantage, don’t you know?). The fleet of foot join in dance scenes (choreography Beverley Norris-Edmunds), polkaing with the best of them. All except Denry of the professionals double and treble (up to sextuple) parts, plus filling in as “Ensemble”, and Dawn Allsopp’s costumes rise to the challenge of quick changes, mostly pretty convincing, the main exception being Howard Chadwick as Denry’s mother!

The cast is admirably selected. David Ahmad and Darren Kuppan switch roles among servants and buddies of Denry with wit and enthusiasm; Jessica Dyas (the feisty Ruth Earp), Jenny Murphy (the rather meeker Nellie) and Molly Roberts (the extremely aristocratic Countess of Chell) are perfect as the three ladies in his life as well as assorted other parts; Howard Chadwick goes from slightly disreputable employer to slightly disreputable councillor via Mrs. Machin; and Gareth Cassidy is the perfect Denry, the epitome of cheek, a swanee whistle and a knowing pose indicating when an idea strikes home, his ebullience expressed in an extra twirl at the end of a hornpipe.

Conrad Nelson’s direction is meticulous in the extreme, every little gesture or aside dedicated to “the great cause of cheering us all up.”

Runs until July 9, 2022

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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