The CARD – Claybody Theatre

★★★★★ A jubilant, site-specific success

In the grand and most suitable setting of a recently restored town hall ballroom, you will find (if you’re quick!) a delightful, modern twist on a literary classic.

For 10 days at Fenton Town Hall in Stoke-on-Trent, established local theatre company Claybody Theatre are presenting their latest offer: The Card by Arnold Bennett and adapted by Deb McAndrew. The company is not new to site-specific theatre, having staged other local (original) pieces such as Dirty Laundry and Hot Lane in the old Spode Factory but this may be the most appropriate setting yet.

The Card is a most entertaining theatre production featuring 7 professional actor/musos, a community company and even a brass band who neatly frame the action, often with great comic effect! It’s the story of the remarkable, fictional life of Denry Machin – Bursley’s youngest ever mayor and how he got there. Denry tries his luck and makes some strategic moves to go move from office clerk to a rich and successful major player in an extremely unique fashion!

It has been a 1911 book and a 1952 film, but this exciting adaption is modern and full of surprises, tightly holding the audience for the duration – hooked on what Denry will do next!

Speaking of Denry. Our protagonist. Well, he’s a card. Slang: A card is a ‘character’, an ‘original’; a clever, audacious, person. This is a particularly fitting description not just of our lead character but also the tremendous actor who plays him. Gareth Cassidy is an inspired casting choice, perfectly executing the adventure and the humour of this role and oozing quality whilst he does it.

The cast has real quality throughout, including impressive West End and Regional credits which makes the ticket price even more of a bargain. The cast largely play multiple roles. You’ll meet Molly Robert’s imposing yet likeable “Countess of Chell”, Howard Chadwick’s shouty and hilarious Superintendent (Denry’s mother is another great highlight in the second act) and Jessica Dyas presenting no less than 3 characters all essential to the plot yet at no point confusing. Jenny Murphy is flawless, playing a gentle “Nellie” with a show stealing and beautiful finale. Darren Kuppan and David Ahmad also provide solid and dependable supporting characters, again exceptional actors of serious calibre credits, expertly played.

A large group of community company help to provide additional depth and atmosphere to the production, playing townsfolk, football supporters and general ensemble extremely well. To top it off, the capable and great sounding Acceler8 brass band provide musical accompaniment, along with some instruments played by the actors and Musical Director Rebekah Hughes, neat compositions by Director Conrad Nelson also framed the piece well. Brass is a hard sound to control, but the whole crew did extremely well to ensure that they could be largely heard even over the height of the music.

Director Conrad Nelson has sprinkled touches of magic all over this production. Not only is it a tricky space, but it’s a tricky sound and seating arrangement. He has not only got a wonderful adaption on it’s feet, but made every aspect of it work. There is so much playful movement and simple genius – from driving a car to speeding up the hill on a horse and cart, these moments add to what is a thoroughly entertaining watch.

The play ends abruptly, but to rapturous and deserved applause. This is how you do site specific theatre, this is how you make historic spaces work and this is how you entertain audiences. Claybody Theatre have struck a wonderful balance and achieved a tremendous show. You must book tickets to go and enjoy this local  adventure, playing until Saturday 9th July 2022. Buy your tickets at the Claybody Theatre Box Office for just £14 adults /£11 concessions here:

Photography Credit: Andrew Billington

About Author /

Rob Stanway is the Founder of At The Theatre. He has reviewed the UK's best touring theatre (and much of the west end) for this website since 2005.

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