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Britain’s "Farndale Ladies" invade the Colony Theatre 
Tempo Theater Review by Alan Raeburn, Glendale News-Press, November 19, 1991

Acting experience in amateur and school stage productions add to the enjoyment of The Colony’s 16th season opening stanza. But even without it, the antics and bloopers committed in "The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery" will regale you.

Be prepared for an onslaught of utter incompetence which the ladies and their sole male colleague provide while presenting "Murder at Checkmate Manor," a thriller in the predictable butler-did-it mode.

A thorough reading should be made of "Checkmate’s" pink playbill. It’s full of riotous typographical errors and inside jokes, typical of most amateur drama groups. It helps set the mood, as do the ladies themselves who also do usher duty before their play starts.

The characters and situations are based on the true-life Farndale Avenue ladies in England’s North London. But they can exist in dramatic societies wherever English is spoken.

David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr. have written 10 Farndale plays starting in 1976, with the ladies version of "Macbeth." It became an Edinburgh Fringe Festival best play winner and the duo went onto fame and relative fortune. This murder mystery effort, the third of the series, world premiered in 1980.

The plays provided the inspiration the writers of "Noises Off," the more known-in-America backstage farce soon to be a major movie, transplanted State-side.

Playwright McGillivray was brought over to direct this American premiere. In terms of American tastes, the action and delivery is sometimes so subtle and underplayed that one might not be sure if the mistakes are real or not. Some American playgoers like their comedy to be more obvious and could wonder if an actor has really forgotten their lines or just pretending? Was that little table meant to collapse just then?

The "old manor drawing room" setting is designed inside a castle with doorways in all kinds of odd places while the tacky furnishings aren’t what the upper-crust Bishops would even look at, let alone possess — all, of course, typical amateur innovations.

When a scenery flat keels over, the ladies unabashedly pop on-stage, curlers still in a slippers flopping, and re-set it upside down — with the painted-on-fireplace now on the top!

The Guild’s chairwoman Mrs. Phoebe Reece (Lisa Gates), in addition to overtly directing find-raising efforts, has given herself four juicy roles which include Regine the sexy French maid and a male solicitor (attorney in Americanese). Gates (and Mrs. Reece) has a ball in every one of them.

As Lady Doreen, mistress of the ancestral home where the dastardly deed is committed, has Colony’s Lisa Beezley doing hilarious things with double takes, forthright moves and an exquisite comic delivery.

Under wigs and ill-fitting suites, Pawn the aged butler and bewhiskered Col. King are portrayed by the Guild’s novice young actress, Felicity Crabtree (Ceptembre Anthony). At one point, she rushes on and off stage trying to act both roles simultaneously. With verve and gall the petit Ms. Anthony provides titters and guffaws throughout the evening.

Carol Newell, too, has us in stitches as two other wacky females in the Bishop family.

Veteran television actor, Joseph Lambie makes an unforgettable Colony debut as Gordon, the Guild’s stage manager, forced to take over the role as Inspector O’Reilly. What he endures in the course of his investigation and what Gordon — the replete non-actor — weathers, provides devastating hilarity.

Under director McGillivray’s delicate touch, all is accomplished with British styled double entendres and spoken innuendos. In fact, wiping away tears of laughter so much becomes quite exhausting!

Copyright 1991 Glendae News-Press
Reprinted with Permission
The Farndale Avenue Houseing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery at the Colony Theatre