‘Casa Valentina’ – Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, The Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
This is certainly an interesting and thought provoking play based on a real story of men in the 1960’s who found escape in the Catskill Mountains where they can leave their families and manhood behind and inhabit their female side.
As always Chelmsford Theatre Workshop produced an excellent set with the smallest details lovingly included, setting the atmosphere straight away. The use of the lower level gave an extra performance area which was superb.
The cast was led by Colin Smith as Valentina, the alter ego of George. This was a powerful and angry performance showing the inner turmoil he experiences while trying to keep his retreat going against the bigoted attitudes of the outside world. This was paired with an impressive and outstanding performance from Barry Taylor as Charlotte. Barry was incredibly believable as a woman not just in his looks or his walk but noticeably his hands which were the finishing touch to a masterpiece. In fact, all the men aided by a great wardrobe did a magnificent job in their transvestite guises and should all be commended. The clothes each of them put on reveal both the man and the woman precariously coexisting in a world that imposes harsh penalties for gender freedom.
Rachel Curran as Rita, George’s wife had a difficult part to deliver caught between her love and loyalty to her husband, George, and her growing awareness that the other woman in his life, Valentina, is one she will never be able to compete with and she conveyed the part well. However, I struggled to hear much of her dialogue as she was so softly spoken and against such a strong male cast I felt she was often over powered. By contrast Catherine Kenton as Eleanor with her cameo appearance in Act 2 was powerful and captivating, delivering a strong performance as the Judges daughter.
I particularly enjoyed Dave Hawkes as Bessie – a larger than life characterisation which hid a pained and troubled other life. He was very endearing and added much of the humour to the piece – he was a joy to watch. In contrast, Jesse James Lamb as Jonathan/Miranda, the shy and nervous new member of the sorority was played with just the right amount of pathos and his make-over scene was one of the highlights of the evening.
Ian Willingham was perhaps the most macho of the ‘ladies’ and in fact that added a realism which was a breath of fresh air. His portrayal was spot on, as was Terry Cramphorn as the older ‘lady’ in the group who reminded me of certain ‘ladies’ that I have met in my travels over the years. Both were very convincing.
I have to commend Peter Jeary, because if it hadn’t been mentioned in the programme that he had only stepped in the week before, I would never have known. His performance was that of someone who had been rehearsing for weeks and he did an excellent job.
I heard someone comment on their way out of the theatre that they weren’t sure what the play was – because it wasn’t a comedy and it wasn’t a thriller and they are right – it was like being a fly on the wall for the evening in a documentary.
It did cross my mind, given the recent comments of President Trump, in some ways how little has changed. However away from the political comment, this was a fascinating look into history and I certainly came away having enjoyed the evening and with lots of questions.
CTW delivered another great production and one that they should be suitably proud.