The Dipper

Fri 5th – Fri 12th August 2011

reviews

Madeleine Stottor

at 18:16 on 11th Aug 2011

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Edward Murch’s ‘The Dipper’ is billed as a light comedy drama – with heavy emphasis on the ‘light’. In a perhaps oddly WWII-free 1940s London, Patricia Clavering lives comfortably with her servant, Alice Mendal, until Alice’s sister Petrona appears, ‘a ticket-of-leave girl without a ticket of leave’ on the run from the Holloway prison. Lurking in the background are newspaper stories of ‘The Dipper’, the Lord Byron of jewel thieves. When Scotland Yard man Travers arrives in search of the escaped Petrona, matters quickly unravel, though he fails to notice the criminal (or indeed, criminals) in his company.

Whilst ‘The Dipper’ might not be as funny as one might hope, and its plot twist disappointingly abrupt and unsurprising, the play’s language and the earnestness of the Homewood Rose theatre company make this a fairly enjoyable hour. Phrases like ‘that’s the God’s honest truth – if I’m not telling a lie’ raise a chuckle from the small audience, and Petrona’s arguments about cleaning up society and ‘rhetorical rogues’ feel rather close to home. Potentially interesting themes like class distinctions, disguise, and honesty are skipped over briefly; this isn’t a philosophical play, despite Petrona’s prison-philosophy.

The best performances are Boadicea Rose as Patricia, who remains poised throughout, and Maureen Rose as Petrona, whose Cockney-fied nervousness is generally convincing, and particularly good in the second half. Steven Stone as Travers and Ann Homewood as Alice complete this small cast, which works well together, and is clearly tight-knit. No character is particularly well-drawn: Travers examining an ash-tray is afterwards unmentioned; Alice’s potential double-life as the Croydon killer ignored; and Patricia’s final ‘shocking’ revelation unexplained. With such a script, it would be difficult for even the best actors to make ‘The Dipper’ the tensely frenetic comedy it could be. In general, the actors here are commendable for their earnestness. Accents slip occasionally, some lines are fumbled, and potentially emotional speeches are all but recited, but you can tell that the cast is doing their best with what they have, in terms of script, staging, and acting skills.

All the proceeds from this Free Fringe production are to be donated to the World Wildlife Fund. Coming in at only forty-five minutes long, it never drags, but never reaches any speed faster than an amble. The potential roller-coaster ride of excitement implied in the title is nowhere to be found, but ‘The Dipper’ was comfortingly enjoyable – a little like a Sunday night re-run of an Inspector Morse you know you have seen before, and might easily use to shelter indoors from the rain.

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Natalya Din-Kariuki

at 11:05 on 12th Aug 2011

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One would expect a comedy saturated with lies, forgery, identity theft and squabbling sisters to be fairly entertaining, but Homewood Rose Theatre's Free Fringe production of "The Dipper" left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed. Set in 1940's London, in the home of the wealthy Miss Clavering (Boadicea Rose), the simple set and nuanced regionalisms of the actors' speech effectively grabbed and pulled the audience into another time and place. However, the cast unfortunately lacked presence and confidence, frequently seeming to be mentally and self-consciously reciting the lines in their heads and forcing vocal inflections at the end of their sentences in a way reminiscent of GCSE Drama lessons.

The cast could have used the tiny, cavernous space to their advantage, creating the air of intimacy and confidentiality suggested by the play's setting - a lady's sitting room - but failed to do so. More innovative uses of space would have served to engage and involve the audience, making them complicit in the unfolding acts of crime. Instead, they frequently clumsily blocked each other with no apparent purpose, congregating downstage and leaving the rest of the stage predominantly untouched.

At a stretch, the comedy could perhaps be viewed as a critique of class politics, redeemed by its pseudo-relevance to the recent British riots. Petrona claims that "if society really wants to clean itself up" it should get rid of immigrants, hypocritical Christians and lawyers, hilariously approaching the diction of much contemporary political rhetoric.

In the second half, however, Petrona Mendal (played by Maureen Rose) begins to come into her own as a proud criminal expertly weaving a web of lies in the presence of a Scotland Yard inspector (Steven Stone). Additionally, Alice Mendal (Ann Homewood)'s dryness is frequently highly amusing - "I am overjoyed", she claims in monotone. The script's occasionally witty wordplay overwhelmingly failed to mask the lack of chemistry between the actors; however, this small cast's earnestness and moments of hilarity make them an endearing group, even in the brevity of a 45 minute production. This is a Free Fringe amateur production, and with tighter direction and increased focus this group could no doubt soar to greater heights.

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