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These Things Do Happen - Castle Players


The Castle Players’ spring show is a nostalgic step back into mid-war rural North East.  This oral history tale, ‘narrated’ by a tractor (bear with, it does make sense), brings alive the farming challenges faced through the advent of mechanisation, depression, the second World War and the reliance on Land Girls to help meet the country’s needs.

 

Ben Pearson, Peter Cockerill, Ian Kirkbride Castle Players

Written by Stewart Howson as part of his Country Voices cycle of plays, and for this production set in and around Darlington and the Tees Valley, the ‘star’ of the show is a Fordson N Type tractor – Florrie – brilliantly brought to life by the amazing Ben Pearson.  Ben’s ability to impart character into a petrol tank, some drainpipe and a dangling tin can, taps directly into the human desire to personify machines; we have all given our favourite car a talking to when we’ve been on a long journey or pleaded with the noisy old boiler to make it through another cold spell with the promise of getting them that much overdue service as soon as Spring comes – indeed, by the end there was a collective sense of concern when the old tractor feared she was about to be replaced.

 

Su Byrne Janie Caldbeck Castle Players

The more human elements of the story, Mrs Parkin (Sue Byrne), her hardworking son Bob (Peter Cockerill) and the loveable, if somewhat cantankerous Carntbe (Ian Kirkbride in one of the best roles I’ve seen him play) take us through the ages, charting the shift from 19th century farming techniques of horse and ox and into the volume demand driven use of machines.  Simple Bob, played with consummate ease by Peter, inherits some money and it is with this that he decides to buy Florrie and begin the journey into the 20th century.  Along the way him and Carntbe have to learn that you can’t just hit the tractor with a branch to get it to work like one would try with a horse so cue Mrs Parkin, who in the First World War had experience of working with the very first tractors to reach our shores and understands all about choke and starting handles.

 

Ben Pearson Ian Kirkbride Andy Moorhouse Castle Players

As the war breaks out, the farm is granted Category B status and as such qualifies for a Land Girl to help keep the output high.  Enter Edith (Janie Caldbeck), a former librarian who is more than happy to get her hands dirty for the cause, even if she takes a bit of a hazing from Bob & Carntbe at first.  Janie is a wonderful actress, very versatile and keenly attentive to the nuances of the characters she plays. She gives Edith both strength and an assured, yet gentle, understanding of the war time “Keep Calm and Carry On”.  She soon grows into farm life, giving as good as she gets with the men and even taking charge of PoWs.  One would love to think that her and Bob would realise there was more between them than just ploughing straight lines, but I will leave that for you to find out yourselves.

 

Ben Pearson Janie Caldbeck

For a Castle Players production usually known for 20 or 30 cast there are a limited number (7 in total), however this not only allows us to see and celebrate their skills in adopting to the many different roles, but also allows for a degree of humour in switching between them which, whether by design or default, helps to keep the show from becoming an episode of Farmers Outlook.  Andy Moorhouse in particular, takes on no less than 6 roles with more variety than a tin of Quality Street.  

 

Andy Moorhouse Rhonda Hart-Davis Sue Byrne Castle Players

Some missed cues, a temperamental gramophone (to which Baritone Ben, the singing tractor, was able to lend much needed cover) and a few wild mannerisms just add to the quirky feel; indeed under director Gordon Duffy-McGhie “These Things Do Happen” feels very much like sitting at the feet of an old uncle retelling stories; lots of laughs, some crazy characters, some bits didn’t really make sense (I think the playwright may have nodded off in the middle and awoke from a fever dream of living in Ambridge), but a fabulous evening and thoroughly recommended. 

 

Castle Players These Things Do Happen

These Things Do Happen is touring throughout February – check out the Castle Players website for times & tickets - https://castleplayers.co.uk/tickets


Pictures by kind permission of Helen Brown.


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