Sam Snape and the Curse of the Chillesford Chough
Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich
This has been a difficult 18 months for the arts, so its good to see Eastern Angles finally able to perform what was meant to be their Christmas show, albeit to a much smaller audience and live-streamed, which was the way I had to watch it due to severely limited numbers.
I must say from the off that I find watching live-streams of theatre shows rather like having a shower in a raincoat—and I’m not sure whether it was the twice removed feel that made the show difficult to connect with in the first half. But that might just have been me. The technicals of the live-stream couldn’t be faulted and Eastern Angles must be applauded for adding this extra possibility to the mix.
The set is excellent: designed by Emily Bestow, the stage area is backed by a curved screen that projects James Cook’s impressive digital landscape, bits of film, other characters that interact and whole scenes and it all works beautifully, adding an interesting layer to the whole. There is also some clever use of props to turn part of the set into a car and then a motorbike amongst other things. The cast too are first rate and work really hard to deliver a pacy performance that takes the script by the scruff of the neck and tries to wring it out with as much verve as possible.
This is a Julian Harries special and as to be expected is completely zany. But, as with the unwieldy title, it maybe has too many clever ideas. With an uneasy mix of film noir and Suffolk Anglo Saxon spoof myth, plus circus, missing women, gangsters looking for lost treasure, ghosts, exploding sheep and an American vicar who rides the Wall of Death in his spare time as well as being an amateur private detective—it was very hard to follow and / or swallow.
The whole cast play a dizzying array of characters, but Robin Hemmings is central as Sam Spade—vicar extraordinaire—and he throws his heart, soul and sometimes his body into the unlikely scenario. Ellen Chivers, Lizzie Wofford and Cameron Johnson play everyone else, the girls frequently swapping gender, with Cameron impressive as Hungarian wrestler Moose and a rather camp art dealer called Cheeks.
I think by the second half I had suspended disbelief and started to go with the flow and the cast seemed to have relaxed more into it as well, added to which, the plot was making a little more sense which helped.
Credited as composer and sound design is Chris Warner and the music is a definite highlight. The songs—played and sung with genuine talent by this versatile cast—are great and very different to the usual folksy mix we associate with this type of show, being more rounded in the main and in places quite poignant. It's all tightly directed by Ivan Cutting who uses every inch of the constricted space to good effect.
In the end, this was an enjoyable evening and maybe it's good to have something that is completely off the wall to take your mind away from the current crisis. Well done to Eastern Angles and all the hardworking cast and crew for getting this up and running so successfully. But if you want to catch it you will probably have to live-stream.
Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes