The Haxby Players return for their second production of 2004 with John Dighton’s post-war farce to entertain the masses with this good-humoured comedy of errors – and manage to pull off a complicated script with brilliant results.
The Happiest Days of Your Life is set in the economic turmoil of 1947, on the first day of term at Hillary Hall – a well established, all boys boarding school – as the teaching staff prepare to receive their boys, plus pupils from a second school that have been evacuated onto their premises. Chaos ensures as they come to realise that their “honoured guests” turn out to be staff and pupils from St. Swithens – an all girl’s school. The two head teachers are soon battling with the upper hand as the teaching staff try their hardest to disguise the crisis from the suspicious parent – resulting in many catastrophic situations!
Everybody knows that the key to telling a good joke is comical timing, and the same can definitely be said for farce. Fortunately, the Haxby Players had their funny bones in the right places, and the farce was played out really well with ‘jolly’ humour brilliantly timed – making it a highly entertaining production to watch. The actors also had to deal with a highly complicated script, written in the style of the period with masses of intricate stage directions and hand gestures that are essential to the plot, which alongside the comical timing, must have proved a huge headache for director Andy Love. But professionalism prevailed – though occasionally the action was a little stammered and the quick-fire nature of lines delayed. Later in the play as the farce was reaching its crescendo there was the odd muddle of lines and action – especially times when every actor in the production was running round the stage in a chaotic clashing of objectives – but overall this did not detract from the individual performances, especially as the audience was experiencing temporary sensory overload at the time!
Every single one of the characters in this production were believable and well defined, from the slightly backward porter/groundskeeper Rainbow (Ron Jevons), the suspicious Reverend Peck (Nick Hall) and his worried missus (Moira Hogg), to the dominating and demanding parents – Mr and Mrs Sowter (Austin Barnett, Brenda Riley). Some slightly slushy moments were provided by the dainty Miss Harper (Sheila Barnett) and the dashing games teacher (Steve Wilcox), but contrasted nicely with the doomed flirtations of the entheusiastic Miss Gossage (Geraldine Jevons) and her reluctant Romeo – the hilariously sarcastic Billings (Dave Hudson). The bickering head teachers at the root of all the chaos Pond (Robin Sanger) and Miss Witchurch (Brenda Sanger) were both exceptionally good at the trying-to-cope-with-a-crisis-and-failing roles, and stole the show in the third act. A special mention has to go out to the two younger actors, the troublemaker Hopcroft Minor (Jack Benericetti) and the incredibly snooty goody-goody Barbara Cahoun (Vicky Clamp) – who both did a good job representing the population of pupils implied in the script. All, of course, relying in the Stage management expertly done by Geoff Taylor.
The Happiest Days of Your Life was a well chosen production, and I sincerely hope the actors had as much fun doing it as the audience did watching it. Iwould like to see the Haxby Players explore their comic sensibilities further, so their forthcoming production of Harvey next spring is highly anticipated.
By Anna-Siobhan Wilcox