After staging The Man Who Came to Dinner twice as head of drama at Roedean, Kate Armes is delighted to fill in the missing ingredient as she directs now for the Southwick Players... The men.
“Obviously, Roedean being an all-girls school, we had girls playing all the male roles,” Kate explains.
The play, by Moss Hart and George S Kaufman, runs at the Barn Theatre, Southwick Street, Southwick from December 6-9 at 7.30pm – the tale of the very last guest you would possibly want to have back. Having dined at the Stanley’s home in small-town America, radio personality Sheridan Whiteside slips on ice on their doorstep, breaking his hip. A tumultuous few weeks of confinement follow.
The living room is monopolised by the bad-tempered invalid and his increasingly-bizarre friends and entourage; a glamorous actress and an eccentric scientist arrive to comfort “poor dear Sherry”; prisoners from the local gaol are invited to lunch; and Sheridan hands out some pretty awful advice to the children of the household.
“I was in a production when I was 18, quite a few years ago,” Kate says, “and then I did the two productions at school. This is my choice. I made the offer to the committee. I think it is one of those plays that work beautifully for amateur theatre because it has got more than 20 roles in it. It’s a really big cast by today’s standards which gives lots of people a chance to take part. Even the small roles have got a lot of character to them, and that’s what I like about it. Also, it is so incredibly well written.
“Sheridan is this great radio personality famous across the whole of the US, and he is visiting lots of towns across America on his annual tour.”
But after a visit to this particular house, he finds he is not going anywhere at all.
“He is an acerbic, vitriolic, difficult character. He takes over the whole house. He sits himself down in the main room and he is visited by a very colourful parade of characters.” And he is awful.
“I think he just has such a great sense of self-importance. He is arrogant, and he earns a great deal of money by being this successful radio presenter, and he is just used to getting his own way. Part of it is just sheer bloody-mindedness, and I think we enjoy his larger-than-life personality. We enjoy some of the meddling, and he puts things right to a certain extent. But he is not the sort of person you would invite to dinner. After he has been, I think you would be striking him straight off your guest list!
“The cast are responding really, really well. We are having a lot of fun. The chap who is playing Sheridan Whiteside is a real tour de force, Bill Griffiths. He is excellent. The part of Sheridan Whiteside is a huge number of lines to learn. He is on stage 95 per cent of the time, and he is holding it all together, but all the other roles are just delightful. We have got some people with just a few lines, but they have still got marvellous characters to play, and even the smaller characters are still all great opportunities. He is being incredibly well supported by all the rest of the cast.”