Review: Lots of history as cast serves up a real treat in the village hall

Tom and Harry was staged at Elsing Village Hall.

Tom and Harry was staged at Elsing Village Hall. - Credit: Archant

Elsing village hall was full for the performance of Tom and Harry, clever play on the expression 'every Tom, Dick and Harry.'

Common enough names even today but this Tom and Harry were none other than Sir Thomas Wyatt and King Henry VIII.

The play focused on the tempestuous time in Henry's reign when he was trying to trump up charges to rid himself of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and accused Wyatt, amongst others, of being her lover.

Playwright Gareth Calway was a very genial Tom, narrating Wyatt's version of events in period costume without creating the dramatic fiction that he actually was Wyatt.

This friendly collusion with the audience created an intimacy which encouraged the audience to join in and Calway handled these interpolations with aplomb.

He also read extracts of Wyatt's poems, which could be interpreted as having been written for or about Anne and read them extremely well – it's hard to read poetry out loud but Calway could have given a master-class in it.

Henry himself (a charismatic Steve Knowles) came on stage half way through to give his own interpretation of the same events and was a powerful and mesmeric presence, despite wearing what looked like a lady's slip!

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He very convincingly portrayed a king at once menacing and vulnerable, credulous and fatalistic.

Henry's decidedly dodgy self-justification never became whiny thanks to Knowles' dominant stage presence and excellent almost challenging eye-contact with the audience – he maintained the fiction of actually being Henry and no-one in the audience dared join in this time!

It was a shame that Anne was only present as a rather crackly audio although this disembodied voice did help with the impression that she was a ghost and did give her the opportunity to add a third dimension to this tragic story. Pete Butterworth played the 12 string guitar and sang original contemporary folk-style songs to illustrate points in the narrative.

The second half was presented by Calway as himself in modern dress (the ubiquitous jeans and teeshirt) and was a mixture of engaging romps through notable 'failures' of history and his own very evocative poetry, which, again, he performed extremely well.

The contenders for biggest 'failure' in history ranged from poor King Ethelred the Unready to English football and the audience was invited to vote on which was the biggest 'failure.'

Altogether a diverse and most interesting evening's entertainment with excellent actors and light musical accompaniment. If you get a chance to see this production I would highly recommend it.

Gretel Hallett