Drama in the Parlour - a unique force on the North East theatrical scene
PUBLISHED: 12:42 23 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:08 20 February 2013
With its mix of humour, tongue-in-cheek melodrama and old time glamour, Drama in the Parlour has established itself as a unique force on the North East theatrical scene. Jane Hall reports Photography by Roger Jones
The knock has barely registered before the front door at Stocksfield Hall is flung open by a terribly enthusiastic young lady in a 1930s style day dress and heels.
Welcome, welcome, she trills. Do please come in. Im Tilly Teasmade, the coat check girl. Can I look after anything for you? Your coats will be perfectly safe with me. I only got caught taking something from a pocket once.
She looks abashed. It was all a terrible mistake, wasnt it Gladys? she says, as an older woman clad in a sparkly black knee length evening frock walks into the hallway. Gladys nods her head in sympathy and murmurs a few platitudes.
Tilly leads the way into a dimly lit living room in which an assortment of seats is lined up in rows facing two microphones. On a table at the far end are an eclectic mix of items from a childs toy dog to a baby doll and a set of bongo drums.
Please take a seat, Tilly invites, before turning to Gladys and exclaiming: I am ever so worried. Mr Armstrong isnt here yet and we are due on air any minute. What shall I do?
Have you looked in the bathroom? Hes probably in there having a drink, Gladys shouts after Tillys retreating figure.
A handful of the watchers look nervously at each other, unsure what to make of the proceedings so far. Welcome to the wonderfully wacky world of the Drama in the Parlour radio show.
Now on its fifth outing (sixth if you count a Christmas special), it features the veteran radio star and presenter of Drama in the Parlour, Mr Albert Armstrong; coat check girl, usherette and general dogsbody Tilly Teasmade; rising icon of the airwaves Montgomery Monty Montgomery; stage and broadcasting stalwart Helena Handcart; former movie legend Clive Churchill; one-time music hall vocalist Margarita Morrison and sound effects guru Gladys Gilbert.
But it is looking increasingly like the Drama in the Parlour team will be one short for this evenings live radio show. Tilly now wearing a black cocktail dress rushes into the room again. Mr Armstrongs still not here Gladys. What shall I tell the others?
Its too late to think of an excuse as the rest of the Drama in the Parlour team waft into the studio wearing their best party finery. The cast agree they will have to make the best of it as the seconds tick down to Drama in the Parlour going live across the nation. What follows after the on air light is activated is an eccentric, humorous, nostalgic, irreverent two hours of light-hearted fun as the audience is encouraged to step back in time to the glamour era of the 1940s and 50s when the biggest names in entertainment were the stars of the wireless.
Its not an experience for the timid. The audience is expected to participate and for first timers it can be an unnerving experience. For it starts the moment you walk into Stocksfield Hall in the heart of the Tyne Valley where this small theatre company made-up of seven amateur dramatic enthusiasts is based.
There is nothing amateurish about what they do, though. The scripts are written by Alex Swan, who plays Monty, the voice of the effete Frenchman Henri Fripiere and bumbling Brother Bananabus.
Alex a primary school teacher by day in Ashington happens to be a keen comedy scriptwriter in his spare time and is also a member of Day8 Productions, a not for profit company set up to support amateur theatre in North Tyneside.
Since Drama in the Parlour premiered in 2010, it has built a loyal following. Regulars now come dressed in vintage costume and are familiar with the in-jokes and storylines that run through each performance one is the recurring theme of the guest star who never turns up.
For newcomers it can be a baptism of fire. Helen Morris (Helena Handcart in this world of make believe but in real life the co-owner of the hugely successful Stencil Library and chatelaine of Stocksfield Hall) says most Drama in the Parlour novices sit through the first part looking totally bemused and wondering what the hell it is all about as the cast flits from one grotesque character to the next in the cosy front room setting.
But Helen adds: After the interval something happens probably because theyve had too much to drink and they just seem to get it.
Alex was attracted to the idea of working on something unusual and didnt need much in the way of scenery, was cheap to put on and meant we didnt have to learn any lines as its a radio show and we can just read from the script!
I said to Helen, youve got a big house, lets use it. Instead of swearing and walking away, Helen said yes.
Most of the company, which includes Alexs wife Marie Swan as Tilly, David Walker as Clive, Margaret Matthews as Margarita, Andrew Palmer as Mr Armstrong (who never did turn up. He was on holiday) and Karen Kirkland as Gladys, met at local amateur dramatic company, the Stocksfield Players.
The intimate setting of Drama in the Parlour seats around 30, but as the groups fame has spread there is now a waiting list for tickets.
Alex says: Some people have been to every production. Its tricky for me as the writer as it would be easy to fall into the habit of using the same jokes, but I have to balance it out with witticisms and sketches new people will get and laugh at.
The manic Tilly has become something of a star and Marie now finds herself being recognised in the street. Its very odd, but it shows how popular Drama in the Parlour has become.
Alex is now looking at franchising the idea and starting another company near to where he and Marie live in Cramlington. Drama in the Parlour is something that can be done anywhere. Im sitting on six scripts that have been tried and tested on audiences and passed with flying colours. We have proved there is an appetite for this sort of drama.
But devotees will have to wait until next spring to be transported back to the era of jolly japes when radio stars wore evening dress and nobody mentioned the North. And perhaps by then Mr Albert Armstrong may have made an appearance.
For more information on Drama in the Parlour and to keep up to date with future shows go to www.dramaintheparlour.ezweb123.com.