Wootton Courtenay’s ‘Dunkery Players’ triumph

“Don’t get your Vicars in a Twist”, by Ann Gawthorpe and Lesley Bown.
Dunkery Players cast, November 2019

Top Row: Andy Giles (Bishop Herbert), Mike O’Keefe (Second Churchwarden Alan), Patrick Hoyte (Dickie, and Maid), Joe Roake (Churchwarden George),
Marcus Capel (Charles), Keith Garner (Ronald).
Second Row: Beccy Brown (Freda), Tricia Wright (Angela),
Amanda Thornton (Caroline), Bella Capel (Maddie), Venetia Moore (Marigold).

Village Amateur Drama requires skill, commitment, hard work and flair.  The Dunkery Players have a long history of all four attributes and of continuing success.  They also have, in high degree, the active support of a cohesive community.  Wootton Courtenay is among the smaller of Exmoor and West Somerset villages and parishes, numbering only some 250 souls; yet the depth and variety of talent ensure high standards in so much, including theatrical ventures.  The fine village hall, its flexible stage and modern technical equipment help too.

Central and essential, however, is an experienced and able director.  Mary Noble’s advance thought, detailed planning, casting and assiduous direction for the courageous undertaking of a farce set in a country vicarage in 1993, ensured a remarkably successful production.

Farce is well known, including in the professional theatre, to be the most testing form of drama to play, in which timing, cues, and discipline are key.  In pursuing these, other stagecraft skills such as projection, character portrayal and development, fluency of lines, business and movement can suffer.  Not so here, over three acclaimed performances.  Farce often demands that the audience suspends belief in the real world. Yet the characters on this stage were gloriously larger than life, well written, and acted wonderfully convincingly (including with some well-contrived and much appreciated brief local ad-libs which also did good service to the script).

A contrasting pair of absurd yet credible bishops, a brand new lady vicar (new to the Players, too, but a natural), a couple of conniving and cross-dressing church wardens (one brilliantly inventive in deceit), a small but perfectly played troupe of jealously warring actors, and extraordinarily well-played visitors to a murder mystery weekend in a vicarage, the stage and set should have had a hard time of it, but did not flinch.  Even an inevitable picture fell off a wall with perfect timing.  The finely designed and strongly built set (“all those doors” – and stairs to boot!), was beautifully painted, and made a major contribution to the performances.

“Don’t get your Vicars in a Twist” is a very funny farce.  The Dunkery Players made it a hoot. They clearly enjoyed doing so; and entertained their audiences hugely. So many and long were the laughs that occasionally the next laugh-line (or an ad lib) was missed by some in the audience.  The pace, however, never slackened: that is hard to achieve but was here achieved in spades.  These were theatrical shows of slick excellence and great fun: fast, furious and fizzy fun.

The courage of the choice of a farce was amply rewarded: fortune favoured the bold. Word must have travelled around and beyond Exmoor. The appreciative audiences included people from Minehead and from several Exmoor villages.  Warm congratulations to the entire Dunkery Players team.  And warm thanks for bringing real joy on three damp November days.

CJR (By kind permission of the West Somerset Free Press)