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Under The Blue Sky – Chester Theatre Club

I went into seeing this play with absolutely no idea of what the play was about, aside from knowing that it was basically three acts which examined three different types of relationships between teachers and that it was quite ‘sexual’ in it’s theme.

The play would probably never even have entered my life if it was not for a message that appeared on my Facebook wall from a mate who was appearing in one of the acts asking if anyone would pop along to offer support.

I looked into it, found my diary was free that night and that the cost of a ticket was only £9, so for that price, I could not really say no, plus it may have offered the opportunity to meet someone in person that I have talked to quite a bit online.  That part of the plan did not work out in the end, but I am sure there will be more plays and more opportunity in the future.

So, onto the night in question, I knew that the theatre was going to be a small place as I had seen the seating map when I booked my ticket, but I had no idea what the venue was like…I was quite pleasantly surprised as it was my kind of building.  It in some way reminded me of an old school building, or a church hall as it was very old-fashioned, but still very charming.

I walked through the front door and was quite surprised by what I saw, the average age of the assembled audience was somewhere around 70 and as I walked through the front doors, many sets of eyes met me with a look of distrust…”why is there a ‘youth’ in our theatre on a Saturday night…surely he should be out on the streets terrorising people”.

I ignored these looks, paid my £1 for tea and biscuits at the interval and sat down at the back of the hall awaiting the start of the evening’s proceedings.

Next thing a bell is rung and the pensioners rush from their seats and start heading for the stairs (not quite sure why there was such a rush as it was allocated seating…..), this (for me) was another novel change for me having the actual stage and seating area in what can only be considered as the ‘attic’ of the building.IMG_20160709_191741

I took my seat…got up again to let someone in further down the row….sat down…got up again to let said person back into the row…sat down…got up again to let person’s friend leave the row….this continued for a good 10 minutes until the lights dimmed and events got under way.

The stage set was very simplistic, some wooden boxes arranged to form a sort of kitchen stove and two boxes so represent stools, aside from that it was a blank white canvas.  I think this is quite a good idea really because it allows the viewer to concentrate all their attention on the acting.

I will add a caveat here and say that I am going to try to keep the details of the play to a minimum because from what I have subsequently read online, reviews do not seem to go into much detail and I will continue on with this theme.

The first two actors (Ally Goodman & Jessica Toyne) walked onto the stage to start act 1, the actors are playing a Male teacher (Nick) and a Female teacher (Helen), who are preparing to have dinner together, it quickly becomes apparent that both parties have different ideas about why they are there.

From Helen’s point of view, she thinks she has been invited to dinner so that the pair can ‘further their relationship’ from just good friends to something more, but from Nick’s point of view, he has simply invited Helen around to drop the bombshell that he is fed up of working in (their) current school and has applied for a job elsewhere.

Obviously this is devastating news for Helen because she has clearly had feelings for Nick for some time.

There have been several key ‘events’ which have happened during Helen’s time at the school and history repeats itself again here in this act as Helen goes on to re-enact these events, but rather than be the victim of them, she instigates them against Nick.

During the first act, there were a few mumblings from a couple of members of the audience in the front row because Jessica Toyne who plays Helen appears to stumble over lines or briefly forget what she was supposed to be saying.  The more I thought about this after the play, the more I started to think that maybe this was actually part of the play, rather than errors from the actress, after all, when you think about it, if you are having heated arguments with someone, you often find yourself stumbling over your words or struggling to find the right words for what you are trying to say.

I would not say I disliked this act, but after considering all three acts as a whole, I would have to say this is my least favourite act, but that is not to say I did not enjoy it, more that I found myself being more ‘engrossed’ in the other two acts.

After a short pause in proceedings to re-arrange the set (the kitchen set up was cleverly re-designed within minutes into a bedroom scene) the 2nd act started, the act I was really interested to see because this was the act to feature my mate (Lee Abbate), who I had seen acting in a number of TV programmes, such as Waterloo Road and Clocking Off, but never in ‘real life’.

The scene started off with Michelle and Graham entering the bedroom, frantically tearing each other’s clothes off and proceeding to the bed.  After a few minutes everything ‘became too much’ for Graham and plans had to put on hold.

This turn of events (or maybe lack of events) infuriated Michelle and from this moment she began to completely crush Graham with insults about how pathetic he was, alongside recounting much better experiences she has had in the past, not only with other teachers, but also with pupils in the school.

No matter how much Graham asked her not to, she got more and more descriptive about her past exploits until enough was enough.

At this point, Graham snapped and totally turned the tables on Michelle which stopped her in her tracks as his actions and the potential repercussions of this were totally unexpected for her.

I will leave the details of exactly what Graham did out of this review as it does not seem to have been mentioned anywhere else, but from a personal point of view, it was totally unexpected!

Overall I was very impressed with the quality of the acting in this scene, there was real chemistry between Lee and Leah Bell and it made for a very believable act, almost as if you were watching through a window on a ‘real life scene’.

Of the three Male actors who were appearing on the evening, I was most impressed with Lee’s performance, the range of emotions on display and the sheer polished performance was some of the best ‘live acting’ I have ever seen in a theatre production.

Next up was the interval where I got to cash in my ‘tea and biscuit’ token downstairs, where I was once again observed with suspect eyes and forced to stand in a corner, despite there being some empty seats, because no one offered me a seat at their table.

Once again, the bell was rung to summon us back upstairs…queue the rush of the older generation back to their seats (at one point I was barged out of the way by one older gentleman in his rush to get back to his seat…how bloody rude!)

The final act was the most ‘relaxed’ of the three, there was no intense action or plenty going on, just the two actors, Sue Elliot and Jac Wardle (who were playing Anne & Robert) sat on a couple of summer chairs discussing their current jobs and plans for the future.

The basic back story of the characters was quite similar to the characters in the previous acts, Anne & Robert used to work together, but some years ago, Anne moved down south, but this did not stop the two meeting up in school holidays to go off on holiday together.

The previous holidays play a key part in this act because a lot of it is spent reminiscing about holidays gone by and with Robert trying to organise for the two of them to go away again in the upcoming school holidays.

This is where a change seems to be coming for the two teachers, whilst Robert is very keen to make plans, Anne is not so keen and starts to talk about how she has made plans to go away to Belgium with her mother to visit the war graves there.

Anne goes on to tell a very moving story about a man her aunty May met many years ago, whilst she was serving in the war effort, unfortunately, the man died and ever since that day, Anne’s mother feels that his ghost is still haunting her and there will always be something missing from her life if she does not go and lay this ghost to rest, before she dies by going to see his grave.

Robert does not believe this story and thinks it is just an excuse by Anne for not going away with him on holiday, it is something that us, the audience start to think is the case as well as Anne then goes on to talk about how she is much older than him and she is holding him back from enjoying life with people his own age.

This leads Robert to pour his heart out to Anne, declaring his love for her and describing to Anne the sort of life the pair could have if they both leave their life as teachers and move into a nice quiet village together, where they can make many new memories together.

I was about to say what happened at the end, but once again, I think this would be an injustice for anyone who has not seen the play already, so I shall leave the summing up of act 3 there.

Overall, I really enjoyed the evening in a wonderful little theatre, I have been to see quite a few shows at a number of theatres and looking back I think I have been won over a lot of the time by the very impressive stage sets on offer (Lord of The Flies springs to mind here), but this time, it was the acting which really stole the show.

If I was to make suggest one criticism, it would be that it would have been nice for a short ‘summing up’ at the end of the show to let the viewer’s see what the outcome of each act was in the end, did Nick end up moving schools, did Graham ‘tame the beast’ that was Michelle and finally, did Anne and Robert get any more holidays together……we shall never know.

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