Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Amusing ,Bewildering and Harrowing

At the penultimate night of the Thurrock Drama Festival audiences were treated to three very different types of drama.

Thurrock Courts players opened the proceedings with a original one act play by Luke Coldham. What appears to be a comedic domestic situation turns out to be a long running soap and the lead character played with wonderful comic timing by Jim Wilkinson has decided to retire. To add to matters his real life son is coming in to the show and their strained relationship is put to the test.

A strong cast worked well together and the contrasts between the characters in the soap and “in real life” were impressive.
This performance hit the ground running for the first ten minutes but then lost pace when lines were lost on several occasions which was a pity as the play shows great promise. Better luck at Brentwood when it’s next aired.

I normally like Neil Gray’s work but on this occasion his self penned duologue staring himself and Nicola Stacey in “Changes” left me and the rest of the audience bewildered. Every member of the audience entered the bar area muttering “ what on earth was that about?” No scenery, no costume, no lighting plot, no props and worst of all no cohesive story and actually no characters even confused Jill Colby’s adjudication . This was thirty five minutes of nothing , the author himself seemed unsure of its direction. Sorry to be harsh but this was not entertainment of any kind.

By contrast Spotlight Theatre Company’s production of “Five Kinds Of Silence “ was a powerful gripping and harrowing tale of a family engulfed in physical and sexual abuse from the overpowering Billy played by the superb Dean Zetter. A strong cast and a strong dialogue made uncomfortable viewing and the cast were a little guilty of rushing and over dramatising portions of this piece.

We await with interest the Adjudicators results for tonight’s climax


  1. We strongly disagree with this critic’s opinion about the original play “Changes” and his subjective view of the audience’s response. We were in the audience and found the play to be thought provoking, philosophical and an insight into the human psyche. Many of the people we spoke to (who weren’t at the bar!) also found it to be an interesting and intriguing play which was well performed and well written. The stage presentation was perfect for this play for any props or set would have distracted from the atmosphere formed by the dialogue and its emotional content. This play is about dealing with loss – loss makes you feel empty and that nothing else matters, so setting the play in the middle of nowhere on an empty stage was an inspirational way of creating that feeling for the audience. In terms of plot, this play followed the characters through their emotional journeys and the changes that the bewilderment of loss brings. We congratulate the critic for realising that the play was meant to portray this bewilderment! Furthermore, it was clear from his writing and his performance that Neil Gray knew exactly the direction of his play and shows his understanding that loss is personal and individual to each of us. His play gave us an opportunity to explore and connect with those feelings in a safe, reassuring and positive way. So Mr Critic, you are entitled to your opinion, but we agree with the adjudicators high placing of the play in the festival (runners up for the one-act plays) and congratulate Neil Gray for winning the Best Actor award.

  2. We are delighted that you disagree with our critic as we love to encourage opinion. We are also pleased that we are the only media avenue that gives this Festival any coverage at all. We have covered and filmed every performance over the last three years and of course we expect people to disagree with our critics. No other media outlet gives it a mention.We have no axe to grind with Mr Gray we just felt that ,on this occasion, his play was poor. It may have been clever but that may be part of the reason why plays of this ilk keep theatres empty during festivals. Again thank you for reading our site.

  3. My word some people must live in a bubble away from real life and away from what non drama participants wish to watch. What I mean by this is the general public that some do like to drink at the bar and this does not make their opinion any less important. I however was not at the bar nor approached by those above. I found Neil Grays play and performance very dull, droll and uninspiring. I wish I had been to the bar in fairness after 35 mins of this play. The fact there was no set and just 2 charaters acting out on e stage was a brave but foolish decision. Even the aduicator stated how confused she became, so much so she must have felt she did not wish to look foolish, she gave this play and actor such high praise. Unfortunately on this occassion, Neil Gray appears to have pulled the ultimate trick and made her look more foolish than she could ever hope! However the entire night was not a waste as I found ‘Cut’ to be comical in parts however the lines lost made me lose faith as the play got to the more serious undertones towards the end. And then came the jewel in the crown, the hard hitting 5 kinds of Silence. This is a play that many groups appear to have over looked on many occasions, possibly as it will not always be a comfortable play to portray. But spotlight Theatre group executed it with care and skill and for a small theatre group where overlooked and robbed. I also totally agree that Dean Zetter deserved the award that night and if Neil Gray was any true fan of the arts, he would have recognised this and done the right thing…… I look forward to any other responses.

    Regards, here’s to the next theatre festival……

    A tee total non bar visiting Peter Povey

  4. As an audience member on Friday evening I have to say that I agree with Mike both Cut and Five Kinds of Silence where entertaining for the audience and I feel it is true that Changes and plays like these do keep the theatres empty at festivals. I have to also agree with Mike that Mr Zetter who played Billy was superb. As for the critic for the evening performances it is just one persons option another adjudicator may have given a very different critic.

  5. I have to echo Mike Jones opinion – Mr Gray’s one-act was the kind of self indulgent pseudo intellectual twaddle that drives people away from the theatre. It came as a total shock to this member of the audience that Changes even got nominated for any awards, let alone received them. I have to ask what the adjudicator was taking, because she can’t have been sat in the same auditorium as me on Friday night!!!

  6. I am saddened by the comments above that appear to be a personal attack on an individual.
    I have always thought that festivals are the perfect place to try new ideas and new plays. A place where work can assessed by an unbiased critic – the adjudicator – who can give criticism and advice in their feedback.
    The adjudicator’s comments this week were insightful, showing a clear understanding of the needs of each of the plays in their transference from page to stage. Her comments about “Changes” indicated understanding of the fact that the play (like so many plays) can be interpreted and staged in a variety of ways.
    The dismissal of this experienced and well-respected adjudicator as “foolish” and the implication that she must be taking drugs are both insulting and offensive. The fact that you do not like what she said does not mean she is wrong.
    I consider the posting of such personal and vindictive comments in this public arena to be irresponsible and dangerous. They are the sort of comments that might not only stop a new writer or director from developing their work but also put groups off entering the festival in the future. If the writers’ intentions are to stifle theatre they are going the right way about it to succeed.
    I repeat, I am saddened by the exchange above. I wonder if Tom Stoppard would have been accused of writing “self indulgent pseudo intellectual twaddle” had he staged “Rosencrantz and Guidenstern” at this festival as a new piece of writing. It too is set in no particular place and contains equally sparse, thought-provoking, philosophical one-liner conversations which only have a context because they are characters from Hamlet.

  7. Yes, I have to agree with the majority here! Friday night was a bit of a theatrical rollercoaster to say the least! I loved “CUT!”. Yes, we all know that some lines were lost, but hey ho, it happens, and yes it spoils things but does not take away the fact that the play was a good one with a bit of everything to keep us entertained and a STORY(!) and Luke Coldham well deserved all the awards he picked up on Saturday night!!!!!! “Changes” was one those plays which you either love or hate. Unfortunately I hated it. There is no question that it was well rehearsed and the two actors knew their stuff but what the hell was it about?! I sat intently digesting the dialogue and waited for the end – after a few “hope this is over soon” glances at my watch – in the hope that the last line would reveal something amazing and I would say “Oh my God! That was brilliant!!!!” and then go out into the foyer in the interval and pat all involved on the back! Nope, didnt happen – Yep, still bewildered! “Silence”, was great! Not my cup of tea, and I felt very uncomfortable throughout because of the content, but great entertainment, well acted – Dean Zetter the Best One Act Actor winner in my eyes by a mile! – and again, a STORY!!!!! I saw every One Act play at this festival and “Changes” was not in my top three, four come to that!
    I will sign off with a quote from probably the most famous actress of all time, Sarah Berhhardt, not because it is relevant to this discussion but just because as theatre lovers I want to share it with you all – “Once the curtain is raised, the actor ceases to belong to himself. He belongs to his character, to his author, to his public. He must do the impossible to identify himself with the first, not to betray the second, and not to disappoint the third.”

  8. mubbles- please be assured that my review was not an attack on Neil or youirself. There was no critisism of the acting I just didn’t like the play. I have the highest regard for Neil’s work and he should be pleased that he has won many awards over time for which he is a worthy winner. I look forward to future entries he makes in festivals

  9. i must admit it has felt a bit like a personal attack. I understand that everyone has different opinions about theatre. I don’t think that plays like mine would drive people away. I hope they make them think. This one especially. I do know what it means and what it’s about. It’s one of the hardest things to explain, especially when you asked me.

    It is a personal piece that I was very frightened to show people. For this very reason. It is an exploration into the way people cope with loss and the negative attidudes that we put in ourselves instead of trying to cope. I could have placed it somewhere, with a specific set and specific names, but I wanted it to be general and everything and nothing.

    It was never meant to cause such a mass hate amongst the audience. I wanted people to think and to empathise.

    I will not be experimental again.

  10. May I just say Thank you for the comments, I really appreciate it.
    If the boot was on the other foot, I would also feel a little under attack, so as much as I have said i appreciate the comments, please commend Neil on his performance, I am sure he is aware as well as I am that you cannot please everyone all of the time. At the end of the day it is JUST a festival of shows and not anything life changing.
    Neil congratulations and good luck for further productions 🙂 Dean.

  11. I’m saddened by this reaction at a young man’s attempt to challenge an audience. It suggests that all people want from theatre is a live version of Eastenders. The whole point of the festival, surely, is that an audience can experience a variety of theatre, particularly styles they wouldn’t necessarily choose.
    I’d like to remind people that just because they don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it’s bad, and I hope Neil won’t let some close minded individuals put him off his creative passion that gives him and other people a great deal of pleasure!

  12. Editor’s Note

    You have clearly stimulated a lot of debate. I haven’t seen the play so i cannot comment.
    All I know is that I reviewed plays in Edinburgh for many years and many a play gained a reaction.
    I reviewed the first four days of the TDF and wrote v positive reviews. No-one commented at all.
    If nothing else, you have gained quite a reaction and there are now people who must be curious as to what your play was like.
    I say,put it on again and get us along to film it and then let all those who go on youtube to judge?


  13. Let me start by saying this is not a hate campaign. Neil I’m sure you are a accomplished actor and writer however on this occasion I feel you missed the Mark with the audience but some how struck a cord with the adudicator… I can’t lie in not in my nature, i do feel others deserved the awards more but hey ho…. Thats life…… However I take humbridge to the comments from cazzerella that we all would like to see eastenders on stage and are close minded people. It appears that if we disagree with someone’s addudication we are drunks slurring our words at the bar and have very little understanding of art. I would like to point out that it not only takes actors and writers to make a festival but the audience too….. With closed minded people like you cazz the audience numbers will only but fall….. We need to welcome debate, thats what makes people better writers and actors…… Neil continue to write and let’s hope the next play brings as much debate as this one but for the right reasons.


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