The Garden Suburb Theatre (GST) is a friendly and welcoming amateur theatre company.

We are a registered charity promoting involvement in the Dramatic Arts in North London. We welcome anyone who wishes to learn more about drama, either by participating in or coming to watch one of our diverse programme of shows.

Review

The Barnet and District Drama Festival, one of the best established of the London-area festivals, has maintained a consistent high standard of amateur productions over the years. Well organised and administered, it has a history of competitive entries dating from the 60s. With adjudication dates stretching from February to June, it attracts a varied range of competing societies from a wide area, offering thirteen trophies in most aspects of stagecraft. This year's festival has its first entry on 16 February and the last on 1 June. A full and festive Awards Evening takes place on 9 June. The number of competing entrants varies slightly from year to year. In 2012 (with two late casualties), there are 8 entrants in the festival, two fewer than in 2010.

In 2012 there is a varied range of productions staged in contrasting venues. Among the 8 entries is a popular comedy-farce in Miles Tredinnick's well known "Laugh? I Nearly Went To Miami!". Drama of more substance features in the form of Charlotte Jones' intriguing "Humble Boy" and a production of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge". both relatively infrequent festival choices, and Ted Tally's challenging "Terra Nova": while Terence Rattigan's "The Winslow Boy", a favourite and festival perennial also makes its almost inevitable appearance. Two unusual festival inclusions are Brian Stewart's "On The Tin", and a version of Yasmina Reza's subtle "Trois Versions de la Vie", translated as "Life Times 3". Completing the set of eight is a typically well constructed Thriller by Francis Durbridge, "The Small Hours".

The Garden Suburb Theatre dates from 1966. with the merging of two earlier dramatic societies, and has its provenance in the historic Hampstead Garden Suburb development, founded in 1907. Known until 1992 as the Hampstead Garden Suburb Dramatic Society, in 2008 the society celebrated one hundred years of dramatic performances. The Garden Suburb Theatre is a prominent dramatic society in the area, stages six productions a year in a variety of venues and holds auditions throughout the year in previous years the Society has staged most productions in the main hall of the Henrietta Barnett School which it shared with a number of other organisations and activities. Now however, with increasing pressure on this venue, the Society has become peripatetic. Without a fixed base, its loyal local following has accordingly dimished but the society maintains its policy of encouraging new talent both onstage and in its backstage work. It now uses three main venues and its latest production was staged in The Bull, in High Barnet. This attractive, local community theatre, housed above a pub, comprises a compact and comfortable 150-seat auditorium, with seating arranged in three well-raked blocks. The stage is wide but shallow, the lighting facilities good, and the sight lines to the stage clear from all areas. In this intimate studio theatre acoustics are excellent. Wherever it stages its productions, the Garden Suburb Theatre is a regular participant in the Barnet Festival, enjoying an outstanding success with a memorable "Educating Rita" which won the Festival in 2010.

The Garden Suburb Theatre's entry in the 2012 Barnet and District Drama Festival was "Life Times 3" by Yasmina Reza. Reza is an award-winning actress, novelist and screenwriter better known for her successful "God of Carnage" (2007), with its exploration of savage conflict arising from a contrastingly trivial (children's) incident, all within a sophisticated (parents') setting. "Life Times 3", her fifth play and dating in its English version from 2001, had a similar underlying theme, dark forces erupting in this case in the world of the intelligentsia. Its uniqueness springs from its three-fold enactment of a roughly similar sequence of events. with significant alterations, in each succeeding scenario. In a fluent and idiomatic translation by Christopher Hampton, it is written in the same funny-ugly satirical vein for which Reza is renowned. With its quick-change moods, rasping (and increasingly abusive) repartee and offstage hiates, it needs a combination of sophistication and aggression, in every respect a challenging piece to take on.

The setting, a living room in a fashionable Parisian suburb, had a simple elegance. In an open set, a low coffee table, with black leather settee behind, faced the audience on a single square of carpet. On each side stood matching white leather reclining chairs. Set well apart in the upstage right corner was a small desk and chair, and, in the opposite corner, a drinks cabinet. Simple angled flats suggested the outside door at stage right, and a bedroom door at stage left. The unrelieved white of the backdrop, sweeping across the whole of the wide stage, needed softening, perhaps with a pastel wash, to relieve glare and bring more emphasis downstage to the central island of table and chairs. Lighting changes across the apartment were gentle. moving focus from coffee table to drinks cabinet, with a soft pool of light around Henri's desk, and on occasion the area at the child's bedroom door. By contrast the exterior scene of arrival was played in effective and ominous half-light. During key exchanges, progressively tighter focus on the grouped players at stage centre should have underlined the growing tensions. The atmosphere of the piece was well heralded in the soft piano air that played to the slow mute opening. The same plaintive air was used to open the second half, as well as to provide cover for changed scene dressing, effected by a single dark figure. The child Arnaud's interruptions, and in particular his crying, sounded almost eerily real from his bedroom, so that his onstage arrival in pyjamas was expected at any moment. Other effects, such as the Fox and Hounds music (and the phone) were unobtrusively effective. The production's wardrobe nicely echoed the narrative. In the early scenes Sonia, in enveloping white bathrobe and fluffy slippers, looked relaxedly unkempt, hair tied back in pony-tail, face untended, so that, in the parallel scenario, her slinky elegance and loose hair were, as the play required, a situation-changing revelation. Henri, in casual shirt and jeans, made few concessions of appearance to his guests, always looking like the junior academic, dressed for comfort and convenience to minimize time spent absent from his vital desk and calculations. Hubert was a more imposing figure. In close-fitting jacket and bright mauve tie, his heavy shoes conferring the slow tread of his character. His wife Ines was dressed almost aggressively for the expected dinner party, in a glittering sheath of silver with feathery stole, her coiffure tight and set, the stocking ladder conspicuous in this studied ensemble. The contrast between the couples was established from the opening moments. In the chic apartment ambience, set dressing was neat and economical, Arnaud's toys at the coffee table partly cleared, a plentiful supply of drinks at the cabinet, computer accessories at Henri's desk, the tray of glasses and Sancerre carried in when needed. The variety of snack foods, including the critical 'Wotsits', as well as crisps, cheese, nuts and chocolate fingers, were provided in quantity, in interestingly varied and rustling packets.

This oddly arresting piece of theatre was directed with a sure touch. The intimate auditorium and stage area of The Bull were well chosen for a play in which the atmosphere and events are small-scale and intimate. In the first segment, as atmosphere was established in the slow and carefully paced opening, the audience. was drawn gradually into the scene, almost teased as the silence lengthened. Arnaud's interruptions, clearly all too familiar to a knowing audience, were always timed to the second, the fraying tempers first held in check, then unravelling in a rush. The physical grappling had the nervous uncertainty, not of a violent couple, but of exhausted patience. The progression to the parallel scenario in Act Two was skillfully negotiated, the protagonists always retaining sufficient continuity, from their previous appearances, to carry conviction. In particular, the alternative mood of relaxed affection in the second segment was gently found, and, in terms of the plays underlying import, revealing. In both opening segments, the first reaction to the unexpected arrival of guests was underplayed and Sonia's reaction ("This is a catastrophe") muted, not reflecting panic and generating the necessary momentum. In the final scene, an altogether different mood was created and sustained, thefocus shifting to Henri's work and publishing ambitions, and then to Hubert's Academy elevation. Throughout the production, despite the relative absence of action, movement around the table and desk was kept fluid, and the grouping at the central table and settee always reflected the different balance of the changing scenarios. As the play developed, the director achieved the trick of establishing just enough basic character at the start to make subsequent permutations, through a chance remark or change of mood, and despite totally different outcomes, equally plausible. Without this common element the three parts of the play would have seemed like three separate and unsatisfactory one-act plays. As it was, the production built into a disturbing meditation on the arbitrary and capricious nature of life's events as they develop. One difficulty of the piece is that as the three versions unfold - on personal, social, or professional levels - the intensity of the piece begins to flag. The director could not entirely solve the problem of the slower pace and Arnaud-free desultoriness of the third segment, since it rests ultimately in the writing. But the sense of following different possible directions in the alternative scenarios was well maintained, and the piece remained intriguing to the last strains of "Fox and Hounds".

The Cast rose, with assurance to the unusual acting challenges presented in a piece of this structure. Sonia, with her work and busy files clutched to her, was equally plausible whether withdrawn, surly or affectionate with Henri. There was the possibility of easy affection if work went well: or short-tempered hostility if it was interrupted. Her barbed comments both to Hubert and Henri in the third segment had the authentic air of long-buried resentments held back in the earlier scenes and at last breaking free. Henri himself presented an intriguing figure, at pains to handle the child's crying expeditiously, but his concerns, despite his protestations, were visibly based on his desire to return to the all-important desk. His restless prowling, repeatedly taking him back to the desk, had the uncertainty arid nervousness of a child, as if an Arnaud himself of a different age. Despite his intellectual pretensions, his escape into alcohol in the well-played drunk sequence, lurching about the room or legs stretched out on his desk, reflected this immaturity. In succeeding segments, his relationship with his boss emerged variously, and with equal credibility, as anxious to please ("I've finished. I'm submitting the paper ..."), or hostile ("Fuck off. Take your Hausfrau. And fuck off."). In this production, his research paper, "On the Flatness of Galaxy Halos", was always critical, his earlier self-lacerating despair at possible duplication contrasting with his joy and self-satisfaction at its acceptability in the alternative development. The final sequence, as Henri engergetically poured praise on Hubert, defending him against Sonia's sarcasm, then, with the departure of the guests. enquiring tiredly after Arnaud, had extraordinary contrast as it brought the piece to a close.

Hubert and Ines were an equally believable couple but more assured, with an arrogance that was, at different alternative points, quietly contained or openly on show. Hubert, effortlessly setting himself above the others, his comments smoothly filtered through vocal treacle, always looked the senior partner, in different ways, both of Ines and Henri. The swivelling recliner, as he swung gently from person to person, or the Wotsits and chocolate finger, as he worked steadily through them, conveyed more interest in his personal comfort than people. Even the shortest throwaway lines ("Let's pretend we didn't hear that") had the easy sense of superiority to those around him. In this reading, his clumsy passes at Sonia, easily rebuffed, seemed more foolish irresponsibility than attraction or desire. His simple response ("A bit") to Henri's repeated 'crawling' question had the perfect timing that created a high comic moment. Ines was always a more aggressive figure, seeming over-loud and voluble from the start, this front (as it seemed) a defence against Hubert's dominating air. Later in the piece, the aggression translated alternatively into a wrenching hopelessness and despair. The stocking ladder, revealed in the brief arrival scene, was given the intensity that made it a credible catalyst in two variations of the narrative. As she slopped wine into her glass, her look elsewhere, the angry, flashing eyes, matching the silver dress, had spite and sadness in equal measure. This Ines could also find the hostility in the sub-text of the most straightforward comments ("May we know why you're suddenly telling us this?"), her smiles, accompanying the quietly delivered asides, often as deadly as dagger-thrusts.

In summary, this was a witty, enjoyable and well-presented production. The set, economically evoked a fashionable Parisian home, was balanced, elegant and (despite the broad space and unrelieved backdrop) believable. The lighting plot moved focus imperceptibly across the set, the few set-dressing changes unobtrusive. In a piece where sounds off are critical, the child-crying interruptions were eerily real. Costuming, with its emphatic contrast between the couples, successfully evoked different lifestyles at different levels of seniority. Direction maintained good movement and grouping in a largely static piece, and varied pace well. The four players established their contrasting characters clearly, finding the continuity to develop into the alternative scenarios credibly and without strain, thus effectively making the unsettling point of Reza's piece. The production was a skilled and accomplished contribution to the festival.

Review by C.E. Evans

This is a review of Life x 3

The original review is here: Barnet and District Drama Festival 2012 Adjudicator's Award