Times have changed.
Before television took over as the modern world’s answer to evening entertainment, the theatre was the place to see and be seen.
Of course, for those who couldn’t afford it – or for those nights when people just didn’t feel like going out – the radio offered an alternative, as many plays were broadcast over the wireless. One of the most popular programmes in the UK was the BBC Light Programme, which broadcast mainstream entertainment over the airwaves from 1945 to 1967.
Using sound effects produced by a talented Foley artist (named after the legendary Jack Foley who was one of the first great practitioners of this art, a Foley artist is a person who creates the natural, everyday sound effects needed in a production), and with actors using different vocalisations and dialects to portray a variety of characters, the plays came to life as people sat back and closed their eyes to listen in the comfort of their own home.
Radio plays grew in popularity such that it also became popular to attend the recording of the radio plays. The actors and participants would turn up to the radio studio in evening dress and record the plays in front of a live audience.
The Cayman Drama Society has gathered three of Agatha Christie’s popular murder mysteries – Personal Call, Yellow Iris and Butter in a Lordly Dish – to put together an evening of intrigue and entertainment the old-fashioned way.
Prospect Playhouse’s theatre has been set up so the audience experiences exactly what a real live radio play audience would have over 50 years ago, complete with the stage manager counting down to the start of recording, and the sound technician making all adjustments onstage.
The Society has not failed to impress with its latest production, as attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the staging. One of the most exciting aspects for an audience member is gaining insight into the tricks a Foley artist commonly uses to make the various sound effects necessary to create the ambience of the plays.
The actors taking on this ambitious challenge are local theatre veterans Alan Hall, Wendy Moore, Rick Glass and Martin Tedd as well as impressive newcomers to the Cayman stage, Sarah Genereux and Gary Cordes, and Valerie Cottier, who decided to come into the spotlight after helping out at the Drama Society for many years as a lighting technician.
The actors handled their parts with grace, and awed the audience with their ability to stay focused on the scripts and switch in and out of characters with seeming ease.
Wendy Moore certainly steals the show with her flawless accents, from broad Cockney to upper-class London, and her singing was a pleasure to hear in the second play of the evening, Yellow Iris. Her turn as a mysterious lodger in Butter in a Lordly Dish was undoubtedly the highlight of the show.
Another treat to watch, particularly in Yellow Iris, is Gary Cordes, who only recently had his debut on the Cayman stage by singing at Cayman Prep and High School’s annual fundraiser, Puttin’ on the Glitz, a few months ago.
Acting the role of Inspector Poirot, one of the most popular of Agatha Christie’s characters, Mr. Cordes entertained all in the audience. His Belgian accent was spot-on and his manner was charming and inoffensive, truly befitting the style of the much-loved inspector.
Martin Tedd provided much laughter for the audience, whether as a husband with something to hide or as a grumpy party guest who wasn’t one for talking, and Alan Hall delivered his equally amusing lines as a husband suffering from his wife’s mood swings in Yellow Iris.
It is probably safe to say that no one in the audience envied Ian Morgan his job of Foley artist, as it seemed to require intense coordination to deliver sound after sound on time, using a variety of interesting-looking tools and contraptions, but he certainly did an impressive job.
The only issue that arose was whether or not to sit back and listen to the plays with your eyes closed, as if you were listening at home over the radio, and thereby follow along with the plot without confusion, or to keep your eyes open and watch the ‘behind the scenes’ secrets of putting on such a production.
As interesting as it was to view the Foley artist’s creations and the signals between the sound technician and stage manager, it did occasionally distract from the plot, and watching the same actor slip in and out of two roles often left you confused as to which character they were portraying next, particularly for those of us so acquainted with television and live theatre, as we tend to automatically pair a character with a face.
One idea may be to offer a recording of the performance to a local radio station to air after the play has finished its run. That way, people at home who don’t make it to the theatre are able to enjoy the production, and those who did go can now experience it without the visual distractions.
All in all, the production – divided neatly and efficiently into three short, 30-minute plays with brief intermissions in between – is not to be missed, and will transport you back in time to an evening of sophisticated elegance and entertainment.
Be sure to put your glad rags on!
The actors, from left, Alan Hall, Sarah Genereux, Wendy Moore, Valerie Cottier, Rick Glass, Martin Tedd and Gary Cordes, in a scene from Personal Call, the first play of the evening. Sound technician Helen Godfrey is shown in the background.
Foley artist Ian Morgan simulates the sound of a telephone call while stage manager Peter Phillips monitors technical directions for Personal Call.
Photos: Brent Fuller