ON a day when our political perceptions were finally torn up and thrown to the winds, what could be better than a village hall full of the sort of community that wraps its warm and dependable arms around you and demonstrates the comforting power of good people working together and driven by good intentions … and all less than eight miles from the parliamentary constituency of North East Somerset.
The Titfield Thunderbolt, written by Philip Goulding after the famous 1953 Ealing comedy that was filmed at Freshford, was chosen by Nunney Players for their March 2022 production, until Covid played its hand and all the cast was infected. Happily for the audience, and the company who had learned lines, made props, rehearsed … the show was revived for a three-night run.
The director Philip de Glanville, who also plays the Rev Sam Weech and Town Clerk Mr Blakeworth, is making what he insists is his stage swan song with this production. He decided to make full use of the small village hall, moving the characters through the auditorium onto the stage, extended to provide train tracks and the vicar’s sitting room, as well as accommodating the Pig and Whistle and of course the engine.
Titfield had given its name to the first steam train ever, the engine of which is kept in the tiny museum. The story starts as the regulars wait at Titfield station for the morning train to Mallingford, shocked at the posting of a sign announcing the closure of the station.
The redoubtable Lady Edna Chesterfield (Juanita Carey), descendant of the man who built the Thunderbolt, is not a woman to be defeated, and immediately she sets her sights on saving the branch line. In cahoots with the Vicar, who’s a bit of a steam freak, and with the help of town clerk Mr Blakeworth, a plan is made to buy the line and run it as a private company. All they need to do is to persuade the railway company of their suitability.
But then the local ne’er-do-well Vernon Crump (Liz MacNeil-Stone) sees the chance of a quick buck, buys an old bus and sets up an alternative mode of transport, with the reluctant aid of his love-struck son Harry (Dan Cooper). Throw in old railwayman turned poacher Dan (Martin John), determined Joan Weech (Astrid Callomon), stool-pigeon Miss Coggett (Mo Bell) and inspector Clegg (Cathy Marsden) and the cast is complete, doubling up of course. The most spectacular performance comes from newcomer Liz McN-S, who is not only the grubby and venal Crump snr, but the extravagant, moneyed and dipsomaniacal Mr Valentine.
It’s a charming show, delightfully done, and hugely appreciated by the audience, whose active participation is vital to the progress of the story.