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East of England
posted/updated: 07 Oct 2018 - edit review / upload photos
Panic Stations
Derek Benfield
society/company: Henlow Amateur Theatrical Society (HATS) (directory)
performance date: 27 Sep 2018
venue: Henlow Theatre
reviewer/s: Alex Wood (Sardines review)

Part of a HATS swansong – the group have to relocate to another venue at the end of this season – Panic Stations provides a good evening’s entertainment.

Panic Stations has all the themes you’d expect of a good old-fashioned farce.

Chester Dreadnought (they don’t name characters like that anymore) is a schemer but also a bit of a twit who has bought a house for he and his wife only to discover too late that it is about to be blown up as part of a military exercise. Making things worse, the invitation he has given a lady friend rebounds on him when she calls round on the very day Chester and his wife, Patricia, are moving in. Add in his parents-in-law (bossy mum and a barmy, trigger-happy dad), rude mechanicals in the form of handyman Abel Bounty and his missus, a totally self-absorbed historian and a sergeant who is the harbinger of the big ‘boom bang’ that is about to demolish Chester’s house and farce is bound to follow.

After a pacey start I was a bit disappointed with the show’s second half – the fault, I think, of the play rather than the show’s cast. After a very lively first act there were still plenty of laughs but I think the second act was a little too long, maybe due to the writer wanting to squeeze everything he could from the numerous situations he had set up. A cliché, but sometimes less is more. In terms of a modern audience Panic Stations shows its age. The idea that someone could buy a house due to be demolished by the military the day after it’s occupied stretches the imagination a little too far – and I have a feeling that Patricia wouldn’t be staying long after meeting an unknown, glamorous woman wandering round in a short dressing gown in her new house.

Yet none of this should reflect negatively on the director, Geoff Fagg or his players. Over the years I have had the privilege of seeing every member of the cast in one guise or other and I was pleased to see them all achieve such a high standard in this play.

Lee Masters is handyman Abel Bounty in a lovely performance, combining his down-to-earth presence and super comic timing. I also enjoyed seeing Bethany Winfield’s portrayal of Carol, Dreadnought’s bit of stuff - niavely pursuing an affair that seems, to anyone but her, doomed from the start. Katherine Foxworthy, as Dreadnought’s wife is suitably confused and infuriated in turns. Her stern mother is played to a tee by Sue Kennedy and Ray Wood was perfectly cast as her husband, the eccentric Lord Elrood. It was especially pleasing to see the very confident performance of Jamie Ward as Sergeant Everest and Elizabeth Stevens was just right as the dotty historian, Miss Partridge. Mrs Bounty’s entry towards the end of this mayhem is managed with deadpan panache by a suitably puzzled but down-to-earth Stephanie Allen.

Star of the show is, doubtless, Shayn Dickens. On stage for much of the play and with a great deal of the dialogue to manage Shayn shows how much he has developed as an actor since I first saw him years ago. Well done.

With one or two rather obvious glitches lines were well-learned and cast made a very good job of this farce. The comedy, involving innuendo and wordplay, is played at a fast pace. Movement is well-managed and diction is excellent.

Overall, a good night out at HATS.

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