This article will appear in the Andover Advertiser on June 22nd.
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. For those denied the opportunity of taking Latin O Level (and passing it), this means “I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.” The words were uttered by a Trojan priest, Laocoὂn, who was suspicious when the Greek army withdrew from Troy, leaving behind a large wooden horse. The Trojans might have paid attention to the priest, had he and his two sons not been viciously slain after his pronouncement by enormous twin serpents. The Trojans assumed this fate was a sign of the displeasure of the gods, discounted his warning, and wheeled in the horse. This was full of patient and well-armed Greek soldiers who had passed the time playing backgammon by candlelight, over a glass or two of retsina. The rest is history. Laocoὂn preceded his warning with the words “Equo ne credite” – do not trust the horse." Advice of relevance today each time I venture to Newbury Racecourse.
Those initial five words were brought to mind when I opened and accepted an invitation from the Clatford Amateur Dramatic Society – CADS – to attend their next production. Why should I harbour suspicions? 38 years of being an MP have brought with them many invitations to amateur theatrical productions and, anxious to support local culture, most have been accepted. This has exposed me to many thespian feasts, but also to a number of irreverences. Some dramatic societies have taken the presence of the local member as an opportunity for political satire at his expense; others have invited him on stage, for example to waltz with a pantomime dame, or to be cut in half by a magician; and another company armed its cast with custard pies to launch at the local MP, to the distress of the expensively robed Mayor of Ealing sitting nearby.
The driving force behind CADS is Cliff Tucker, a man of creative talent but certainly capable of mischief; so, when Aurelia and I were shown to some reserved seats right at the front of the stage at the Goodworth Clatford Village Club for their production of “Who You Gonna Call?” my suspicions were aroused. I asked if I could be moved further back, so those behind might see better, but no.
The evening passed with no discourtesy to the local member or to the coalition government which he adorns; if anything, my position near the stage afforded the opportunity to trip up the cast as they passed by – fulfilling the actor’s traditional exhortation to “break a leg.”
At the risk of doing the Andover Advertiser’s Art Critic out of a job, I award the production five stars. The hero Billy, played by Graham Oxtoby, is clearly a Woody Allen fan, displaying his lack of self-confidence with women. Auntie Joan, played by Christine McCann, by contrast exuded drawled self-assurance as she gave advice on relationships, escorted by George (Christopher Upchurch) dressed as an attendant at an exoensive Turkish harem. Our heroine Mandy (Janet Smith) captured the heart of the audience as she put up with Roger, her aggressive and politically incorrect husband (Dave Painter) whose wife assured me during the interval he is docility itself at home.
And a final plug for the playwright, Sharon Colpman, for the script While she spared the local MP any criticism, she couldn’t resist a dig at the good citizens of the neighbouring parish of Upper Clatford. I look forward to an invitation from the Burdock Valley Players for the next production in that village, to see their retaliation.