In The Darkness Of Winter, We See Christmas At Newton Park
As I was escorted across the Main House’s lawn and I saw a cascade of choir girls, it felt like Christmas had arrived on campus. Whilst the girls sang, the audience were flocking in like sheep to the manger – the mulled wine and mince pies on tap for all of us anticipating how this winter’s evening was about to unfold. The final bell was called and we were lead in through the main doorway. I was amazed by the audio-visual effects and exterior lights, beautifully outlining the Georgian manor house. Rob Sayer – the lighting supervisor for tonight’s performance – created the first of many ‘wow’ moments that gave this play professionalism with a hint of pizazz.
We were greeted with what felt like the cast of Downton Abbey; the costume design was impeccable, down to every last detail. It was so lovely to see the house with some life and vibrancy from the inside, not just from students passing by in the day. When we walked into the first act, I noticed there were no chairs. Having worn heeled boots, I wish I had known it was going to be a profile theatre, and guided tour. Besides that glitch in shoe choices, I was delighted that the writer had based the play on the history of the house, when it was formally Newton Park College. The actors were flawless as they interweaved between us, I felt part of a whole new world of period drama thanks to the wonderful history consultant Kathryn James.
Afterwards, we were split off into groups. I think this idea was both beneficial and damaging to the performance; on one hand, we missed out on some of the scenes, spent too much time shuffling into each room and the corridors created by the crowds were often interrupting the acting. This caused the audience to feel awkward, because we were in the way. Still, in that moment when I passed the magnificent staircase and saw Matt Fitzgerald (as William Gore Langton) I felt entranced; his soft tone and gentlemanship reminded me of my very own love story with Newton Park. The merry-go-round of short scenes continued, and whilst the acting was impressive, there was a lack of storyline. When we all arrived together at the end, I felt that I had been deprived from any resolution in the script. I thought the large cast singing ‘Merry Christmas’ to us all as we left was heartwarming, but I did think to myself that I didn’t see half of those actors… I needed to go around again! Overall, the production was outstanding, but felt I needed to sample the whole Christmas feast to feel full.
Review by Verity Annear
Photographs by Nick Spratling