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  • Writer's pictureMatt Woodcock

#61 A Sergeant Calls.

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Theatre review: A Sergeant Calls by Sue Gagg.

St Paul’s Church, Holgate. October 6, 2023

Matt Woodcock

I am a pontificator-in-chief when it comes to using our church buildings more creatively and missionally.

I've always seen them as a gift to be shared and used by all kinds of people for all kinds of things.

For me, the more beer festivals, fashion shows and rock gigs filling our naves the better.

Historically, St Paul’s Holgate has never been afraid to think creatively.

We have hosted all manner of concerts, events and charity shindigs over the years.

But I always think we can offer more - not least when it comes to the performing arts.

So it was a delight to recieve a message from one of our congregation, Sue Gagg, in November 2022.

It excitedly but nervously informed me that she was in the process of writing a ‘two-act comedy farce’.

What did I think of it possibly being performed in the church for charity?

‘It’s my way of trying to serve others,’ Sue wrote.

‘Because I certainly can’t bake!’

Well, I - along with two sell-out crowds on Friday and Saturday night - watched in pride and pleasure at the fruit of Sue’s creative labour and vision: A Sergeant Calls.

With two exceptions, the cast and creative team (including the keen-eyed director, Rose Batey, and Sue’s relentless producer sidekick, Natalie Bell) were all drafted from St Paul’s congregation.

What a thrill to see the worship area transformed into a simple but effective theatre set - the guest lounge of Hilltop Views Bed and Breakfast, Brimlington.

If I’m honest, I turned up on Friday to simply support Sue and her dedicated crew and help raise a few quid for St Paul’s and Mind.

I wasn’t expecting that much.

A few laughs and one of Claire Gardiner’s delicious pastries and I’d have been happy.

Well, I’ve since repented.

What I actually experienced was an evening of high-quality, well crafted and wonderfully acted live theatre.

Not to mention laughs and pastries.

The play begins with the B&B’s co-proprietor, Hugo Hills (played by acting first-timer, James Batey) engrossed in the latest Richard Osman bestselling comedy crime caper.

It was perhaps a nod to the style of what was to come - a quintessentially English farce, full of cheek and whimsy.

Nothing to offend, but plenty to tickle.

Hugo is on a mission to stop potential guests booking into Hilltop. He wants the business to close, craving a quieter life.

Then there’s a knock at the door - it’s the Sergeant calling (played by Emily Paul).

She alleges that Hugo’s wife, Rita (Sue Gagg), assaulted a florist judging a flower arranging contest - with a bunch of tulips.

Rumours abound, too, that she is an underground member of the notorious, W.I.I.

All this is happening while travel journalist, Vanda (beautifully played by Beth Pelleymounter), is trying to do a feature on Hilltop.

Things get really ridiculous in Act 2 when Rita is ordered to pay for her heinous crime by having marriage counselling with Hugo.

For me, the comedy worked best amidst the colourful clash of characters and their frenzied interactions.

Just when it seemed in danger of losing impetus, someone would jump into the action at just the right moment to keep things spicy and interesting.

The dialogue fizzed along throughout.

I found the second half, particularly, flowed beautifully.

The quick-fire pace and comic timing was spot on. Considering it was his acting debut, James was a revelation as Hugo. His Fawlty-esque pomposity, irritation and world-weariness effortlessly delivered.

Crowd favourite Ivan Scoble played Marcus, a hilariously animated local thespian and Hilltop’s only guest.

With his spontaneous songs from the musicals, outrageous expressions and clever puns, the man was a riot.

Jude Patrick, playing the sparkly Irish counsellor, Suki Par-Lawrence, also kept the laughs coming.

Her delivery and timing were terrific.

But it was Suki’s marriage counselling aid, a googly-eyed wooden spoon called ‘Mr Woon’, that really sent a crescendo of laughs heavenwards.

A special mention also to the long-suffering sergeant’s very forceful and very Yorkshire mother, Gloria, (admirably played by Sue Langan in a fabulous wig).

Forceful mothers?

Yes, some of us felt the seargeant’s pain.

On a deeper level, this was a play about about truth-telling.

About the need for better communication between people who love each other really.

There was feeling behind the farce.

In the end - to quote John’s Gospel - it’s the truth that really sets Hugo and Rita free.

Moving forward, perhaps this is now just the beginning for St Paul’s as a regular performing arts venue.

The creative risk-taking, theatre craft and writing skills of Sue Gagg have helped fired up our imagination.

Her brilliant cast and crew of A Sergeant Calls have shown us what’s possible.

Here’s hoping it’s not long before the sergeant calls again at some point.

It would be criminal if it’s the last time we see Mr Woon and co.

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