Laughter and songs at 
the front line in France

The Better ‘Ole, 
Meeching Amateur 
Dramatics (MAD), August 2014, Newhaven Fort

This year has seen commemorative events including the start of First World war and, of course, the D Day Landing of the Second World War.

So when I knew of a play written by Bruce Bairnsfather and Arthur Eliot, first performed in the Oxford Theatre London about the First World War in 1917 was being performed by MAD, I did think: “This won’t be any good, how could that possibly work?”

Anyway when I arrived at Newhaven Fort I was pleasantly surprised – I did think “wow!” A venue I have not been to for several years was now the place to be. MAD turned the Nissan Hut into a 120 seat theatre into life.

MAD’s director Tony Gibbs got together three of the big players in the area – Alan Lade, Garry Fowler and Edd Ginn to play the main Privates who are in the Front Line in France before and after the ‘main event’. I don’t think I have given the plot away as it is much more complicated than that.

Alan, as ever, played the main role ‘Old Bill’ who really liked home and his wife but went along with the flow and had some brilliant one liners.

Garry played the womaniser Bert and in nearly every scene he ended up with a woman who he said he always wanted. He said this to all the girls. Edd (Alf) again a good all-rounder and an asset to MAD.

Support roles were strong, including the army bosses – Jim Harvey, Steve Wetherilt, Denis Picott. Don Faulkner succeeded in being a French officer and German spy! The Tommy’s also backed up the privates – Rob McLaren, Robert Horscraft, Jon Ward and Ben Smith.

Apart from the comedy and underlying seriousness, overall the other strand was the Music Hall element. Songs included Plum and Apples, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, and We Wish we Were in Blighty, which the audience were involved with. The main support in the singing included Mandy Crnkovic, Jenny Humphries, Amanda Morley, Wendy Picot, Jacky O’Callghan, Sharon Ward and Paula Jackson, but also younger actors like Aimee Baldwin, and Emma Ruggins (also played a great French maid).

The sets were also brilliant and versatile and the way they changed almost seamlessly is a credit to all the back stage crew and set builders too numerous to mention. Favourite was on the front line in the actual trenches itself. Sound effects and rubble did help with everything. Pacing and timing was generally good.

Overall, a great performance and a credit to MAD and Newhaven generally and would score 4/5 or 5/5 for a great effort as absolute perfection would have been difficult to achieve.

Review by Richard