Sidbury director’s triumph with Winefred community play

Community pulls off tour-de-force in Winefred production at Seaton Town Hall

IT is easy to see why it has taken so long for someone to produce a play based on the Victorian novel Winefred.

Adapting Sabine Baring-Gould’s story of love, betrayal and smuggling, set in 1839, year of the great landslip between Axmouth and Lyme Regis, was a gargantuan task.

It needed someone with a passion for writing and the stage and they certainly found the right man in Seaton’s John Seward.

It was a two-year task, but well worth the wait as John managed to extract the essence of a lengthy novel without losing any of its dramatic value.

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Better known for his hilarious pantomime scripts, completing this was a labour of love.

It was the job of director Penny Elsom from Sidbury to edit and bring that script to life and what a fantastic job she did, even setting up a new drama group, The Heritage Players, for last week’s sell-out performances at Seaton Town Hall, which saw raised seating brought in specially.

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Winefred was a real community effort, with some performers never having acted before.

With family pride Brian Rattenbury took on the role of Cap’n Job Rattenbury, from whom he is directly descended, and offered a great performance.

There was a palpable electricity between him and Karen MacGarvie as Jane Marley, Winefred’s mother, after he took them in when no-one else would help.

Karen gave a strong performance as the world-weary Jane, left by husband Mr Holwood (Richard Stenning) because of her low birth, and betrayed by the evil ferryman, Olver Dence (Phil Christmas) who over 18 years had stolen Holwood’s money, sent for his wife and daughter’s keep.

However, it was Lara Howard as Winefred, whose performance truly lit up, what at times was a bit too dark a stage.

Her timing and interpretation of the role was a tour-de-force, as was her strong accent, slightly refined during her stay in Bath with Mrs Tomkin-Jones (Val Christmas) “till the rubbing and polishing are done”.

Alex Hall, as the young Jack Rattenbury also gave a fine performance as the educated smuggler who falls for her.

The lighting team’s effects, led by Paul Hotchkiss, added to the drama of the collapsing cliffs, although I would have preferred more lighting on faces in the first half.

An effective set design by Janet Potter kept us in mind of those fragile cliffs overpowering Rattenbury’s cottage, while musicians and singers enriched the action with specially-composed songs by Paul Wilson of Wren Music.

Scenery was painted by KiSTA, an arm of Seaton Visitor Centre Trust, which initiated and obtained funding for the project.

This was community acting at its best, with every cast member, and those backstage, giving it their all. DB

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