There’s a lot to be said for English humour!
“Alphabetical Order” proved to be a comical and engaging play for the May Play Readers. Set in the library office of an English provincial newspaper, this play by Michael Frayn explores what happens when an young efficient assistant is employed to help the disorganised manageress and assorted office workers who work in a state of permenant and utter mess and confusion. The easy and warm atmosphere of the chaotic office is soon transformed, the key words now being “ordered” and “soulless”. The problem is somewhat resolved when the office takes over the running of the newspaper but not before we have met some memorable and entertaining characters.
There’s a lot to be said for English humour!
Our play for June will be “Morning Sacrifice” by Dymphna Cusack, set in the staff room of a Girls’ High School just before the 2nd World War.
April - '84 Charing Cross Road'
‘84 Charing Cross Rd’ proved to be a charming, funny and poignant play for the April Play Readers.
A love story unfolds through a series of letters between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer in New York, and Frank Doel a used book dealer at 84 Charing Cross Rd. in London.
Over two decades, they exchange gifts, recipes, ideas about books and current world events brought together by their mutual love of books, stories and words. Whilst never meeting in person, and being separated both geographically and culturally, they develop an enduring and charming relationship, encompassing friends, workmates and family members.
Through the dramatization of their letters, we are able to get a picture of the political, economic and social conditions of both countries as well as the two main characters as they develop over the twenty years of letter writing.
It was interesting to find that the play was based on real events and a real book shop.
An enjoyable read, we found ourselves so wanting Helene and Frank to meet. Spoiler alert! They never do!
A founding member of Play Reading, Jenny Sawyer took this photo for the group
in London on 24/12/17. Finally - a chance to use it!
Our play for March was 'Parramatta Girls' by Alana Valentine.
Set in 2003, the play is based on the testimony of dozens of old girls from The Girls Training School in Parramatta. It is a dramatization of the experiences of eight inmates and their reunion forty years later. Interspersed with song and storytelling, this is a tribute to mischief and humour in the face of hardship and inequality from award-winning author Alana Valentine.
For the girls, crimes and misdemeanours such as playing truant or running off with a boyfriend could result in being charged with being in moral danger. Young women from dysfunctional families were also “put away”. Particularly confronting was that these girls were often charged with being neglected – they were the victims but were the ones punished. This was brought out by the girls playing a court room scene.
The play was confronting, but excellently written. The characters were well drawn and interesting. There were contrasts in characters and backgrounds as to how the girls ended up in the Paramatta Girls Home as it was known. But also contrasts as to the impact their years in the home had on their future lives. The writing was perceptive and inciteful.
In discussion after reading the play some of the class members were able to talk about their experiences with young people who had spent time in a similar institution. And we discussed what, if anything, has changed with the treatment of young people who find themselves with problem behaviour.
Our play for February was Hotel Sorrento, by Hannie Rayson. Set around 1988, it was first performed in 1990. This was a vivid, moving and funny play which explores the concept of loyalty both to family and country. Three sisters come together after ten years: Hilary who lives in Sorrento with her father and son; Pippa visiting from New York where she works in advertising; Meg who returns home from England with her English husband after her new novel Melancholy is shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Unspoken aspects of their shared past, jolted by the autobiographical flavour of Meg’s book haunts the reunion.
Marge, a teacher with a holiday home in Sorrento, reads the novel and finds it captured an Australia she knows. Her friend Dick is worried by Meg’s expatriate status. This interest draws them into the family where the issues of culture, patriotism and using the past are battled out.
In the first act, the setting shifts between London and Sorrento. All the action in Sorrento in the second act. Relationships are well established in the play. The history of the different personalities and eventually some background as to why the two younger sisters left Australia comes through.
We enjoyed the play and talked about some of the cultural issues and differences between Australia and England that were raised. Are these still in play today? One point that was raised in discussion was the focus on the arts that was happening at the time of the play and that this has had a resurgence in recent weeks.
Our play for March is Parramatta Girls by Australian writer, Alana Valentine.
Our final play reading for the year was a fun short one act play called “Continental Customs: A play in one act for women” by Leonard de Francquen.
The play is set in a Customs house somewhere in Europe in the early 20th century. Five ladies are ushered into an office like room and left while their “captor” heads off to seek further orders. All the women seek to find out why they are being kept captive and each of them has a guilty conscience about something they have done while in Europe.
The five ladies are from very different backgrounds. The characters are Irene (on her honeymoon), Ruth (a lady on a business trip), Caroline (travelling with a man who is not her husband), Nell (who inherited some money and is out to see life) and Edwina (who is a dance teacher). After being caught up in revealing their secrets, each is worried.
Their captor (Petrina) returns to tell them they will be kept until an important government official is found. Before leaving them Petrina adds that the Captain of the guard would like one of the women to join him in his house. The women assume the worst about why the captain would want a ‘visit’ by one of the women. It is only at the end after the official has been found (locked in a building bathroom) that Petrina tells Nell (the other women having already left the room) the captain’s reason for wanting a visit was quite innocent – he wanted his wife to learn how to make English tea.
As this was a short play (only 30 minutes) we were able to discuss how well the playwright had developed the different characters well. Finally we headed to a café to celebrate another year of Play Reading.
Sad News - John Ellis
John Ellis, who was in the Play Reading Group and was a member of Coin Collectors, Collectors and the Armchair Traveller Group in the past, passed away in Melbourne on November 30th.
John was involved in many organisations in Benalla including Legacy, the St Vincent de Paul Society and Legacy.. He also had many friends within the Catholic Church in Benalla.
John loved the theatre and was involved with the Benalla Theatre Company. He had written and submitted the newsletter report for the Play Reading group's November Reading of 'A Garden of Grand Daughters' a few days before he passed away. John appeared to be really enjoying having more time to attend Play Reading in 2022. We will miss him.
Pictured smiling a the end of the table, John attended the U3A Christmas Lunch at the King River Cafe on November 25th, less than a week before he died.
Our sympathy is extended to John's wife Janice, who is also a member of U3A Benalla.
We had eight eager members at our recent Play Reading group. We read the play ‘The Garden of Granddaughters’, a comedy written by Australian Playwright Stephen Sewell in 1993.
“Max, a world-renowned Australian conductor, returns unexpectedly to Melbourne with his wife Moriley, for a family reunion.
Their three daughters Michelle, Fay and Lisa, are in various stages of decline, success and reproduction. Their granddaughters are full of hope, promise and childhood dreams.
Most of life’s questions are avoided and ignored in this loving comedy by one of Australia’s most important playwrights.”
There were lots of laughs as we read through the play.
It was also great to welcome back Jenny Mckenna.
If you feel like you would like to join us in enjoying reading plays on the 1st Wednesday of each month from 9.30am to 12noon in the U3A meeting room at the Seniors’ Community Centre, you would be most welcome.
Four intrepid play readers tackled Tom Stoppard’s, “The Real Thing.”
Written in 1982, the play focuses on the relationship between Henry a playwright and Annie, an actress/ social activist.
The play examines the nature of honesty and infidelity and explores the theme of reality verses appearance.
With the tricky structure of a play within a play and some complex dialogue we had to keep our wits about us.
And we did it well!
Our play for August was “Daylight Savings” by Nick Enright, an Australian playwright.
The play is set in Pittwater, North of Sydney with a cast of 6 characters. The action takes place in Felicity & Tom’s house over two consecutive Saturdays, the last Saturday being the night daylight savings ends.
Felicity runs a very successful restaurant and Tom her husband is a jet setting manager of a famous tennis player. While Tom is overseas an old flame of Felicity turns up out of the blue. With various comings and goings interrupting a planned candle-light dinner and watching the sun set over the water front views this makes for lots of laughs and twists.
The group thoroughly enjoyed reading this intriguing play.
Some of the other works written by Nick Enright include: ‘St James Infirmary”, ‘Good Works”, “Playgrounds”. With Justin Monho, he adapted Tim Winton’s “Cloudstreet” for the stage and he was commissioned to write the musical “Boy From Oz” based on the biography by Stephen MacLean.
Thanks to Joy for helping keep our class operating during Jenny’s absence.
Our play for August was “The Pig Iron People” by John Doyle, an Australian playwright.
The play is set in two acts, with several short scenes in each act. In fact one scene had no dialogue at all but is a scene important to the storyline.
This is not a comedy, although there are several comedic moments. It is set in Liberal Street, a tiny inner-city residential cul-de-sac in 1996 as the government changes. In two of the houses live two couples in their sixties. Then there is a German who displays many of the stereotypical characteristics of his nation. Opposite these is an old house rented by Nick, a writer in his thirties. No writer has ever lived in the street before, and the other residents make sure he knows it. During the play it comes out that the house was originally owned by a world-famous singer. An out of work actor, April, comes to live in the house with Nick when her boyfriend leaves to return to America.
The play shows the many contrasts between the generations, but also different personalities. The various characters develop a level of self-awareness about their background and how they came to be where they are. This results in long, but interesting, monologues as key characters reflect on their individual life journeys. These were managed well by members of the class.
An interesting play with messages on several different levels.
Our play for July was “The Golden Legion of Cleaning Women”. This was written by Alan Hopgood, an Australian playwright.
The play is set in three acts, with nine parts. As is often the case in the middle of the year, several class members were missing. With only six people we were still able to share the roles so that everyone had a good turn reading the play.
The comedy deals with a group of cleaning women who decide to battle with the big business executives in their office block. Reading information thrown in wastepaper baskets proves invaluable in their quest for revenge. The strength of the ‘League’ is in the secrecy – no-one can know what they are doing. They do have some support from the downtrodden son of one of the executives. But when he appears to be about to tell others of the work, they close down the league, giving all their financial gains to charity.
A fun play, enjoyed by the class.
June - 'Move Over Mrs Markham'
The cooler weather, COVID, travel, and other commitments saw a small group at our Play Reading this month. The chosen play, ‘Move Over Mrs Markham’, was a challenge, as the smaller number of members often read the parts of two characters. However, this did not detract from the play, it added to the hilarity!
The play was set in the flat belonging to Mr and Mrs Markham, who were to be out for the evening. In their absence several illicit rendezvous were planned at the flat, unbeknown to each couple.
The complications and intricacies that followed when each pair of hopeless lovers converged in the bedroom of the Markhams created chaos, deception and much laughter. Fast exits and arrivals added to the confusion, not just in the play but with the readers!
All agreed it would be a great play on stage, but did not prove as effective when simply read.
As we move into the second half of the year, we are so fortunate to have a variety of live performances available in Benalla and Wangaratta. David Hobson performed at BPACC in June and a monologue, Ned Kelly’s Mother, was held at the historic Benalla Court House last weekend. A fantastic show, “The World of Musicals” will be performed at Wangaratta PAC on July 9th, before its Melbourne season.
Keep warm, keep well and look forward to our next play in July.
Nine participants enjoyed a thought-provoking play written by Australian, Mona Brand, in May. Written in 1948, Here under Heaven, is set on a station in outback Queensland during the war in 1942. Conflict in families provided the basis for portraying the life of the established landowners, the Hamiltons. The different age groups, the in-laws, sibling rivalry, jealousy, sexism and racism provoked skeletons in the closet. The readers were convincing in their roles and the play caused much discussion afterwards, including the query, has anything changed in the ensuing years since 1942?
Next month? Time for comedy? Look forward to seeing everyone next month and new challenges in U3A “theatre”.
Around the district, our local production of Mamma Mia! was a resounding success. Wangaratta Players are performing Same Time Next Year in the first and second week of June, including matinees 4th and 5th at 2pm. Always top performances. Can recommend.
April - 'Death by Chocolate'
The title of our recently read play "Death by Chocolate" was a little daunting, given some of our members were looking forward to Easter and the abundance of chocolate that would be available. The play was far removed from the pleasant partaking of such delight by participants in Benalla!
Set in a newly renovated health resort and following the unexpected death of famed chef Edith Chiles, slick and cynical manager John Stone teamed up with mystery writer Ed Parlor to find the cause and the murderer, in a crazy race against time. Clues pointed to a sinister box of chocolates and a variety of suspects from the outlandish characters working at the resort.
An American play combining comedy and mystery, "Death by Chocolate" highlighted the talent of our newcomers, who embraced their roles with flair and enthusiasm.
Discussion that ensued decided that the Brits take the honours for comedy rather than American based shows.
Next month our play is set on a Queensland station following the war. "Here under Heaven", by Australian writer Mona Brand, deals with racism and gender bias in the 1940's. Look forward to seeing you all in May.
Well, it was a first! There was almost a full complement of attendees, including newcomers, all keen to enjoy our latest selection, when the news was announced. The plays from the Victorian Drama League, always so reliable, had not arrived.
We compromised! We made the most of the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and discuss plays and shows that we had seen, and in new member Brian’s case, had performed in. Information was provided of upcoming performances in the area and the possibility of members attending live shows in the future.
We are now looking forward to reading the errant play from last month, “Death by Chocolate”, at our next session on Wednesday 6th April, 9.30 am – 12 noon. What a way to go!
Our first play reading for the year bought together some members from previous years and a number of new participants were also welcomed.
The play chosen was “The Putting Down of Ned Kelly” by Len Kenna. The first public performance of this play was in Benalla during the Felix Festival in April 1995. John Ellis was able to present signed memorabilia of the occasion and refer to the part Benalla Theatre Company played in the production.
The play tells the story of part of Ned’s life, his trial and his execution. It is also the story of pure political power and about men who were prepared to go to any lengths to protect their positions and to deflect attention from their own activities. It is also a story about today and tomorrow, for as long as men strive to rule and put their own interests ahead of the community: dishonesty, injustice and exploitation will become the order of the day.
It is also the story of a mother who is serving a three-year prison sentence with hard labour in the same prison as her son, Ned, who is awaiting execution. However, she cannot go to him, help him or comfort him in any way.
Although a short play, all attendees had an opportunity to read and show their skill. Lively discussion ensued at the completion of the reading and some interesting stories, passed down through generations, were relayed of incidents and meetings with Ned that occurred at the time.
Next month our play is “Death By Chocolate” by Paul Freed. A classic murder mystery with a scathing satire of today's health crazes. Should be fun!
Six members were present this month to read our chosen play with the very long title The Haunted through Lounge and Recessed Dining Nook at Farndale Castle. Part of the inimitable Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswoman’s Guild Dramatic Society, this was the second time we have enjoyed the Guild’s Dramatic society. Both times the attempt to put on a play by the Guild provides complete chaos by the cast, still rehearsing when the curtain goes up.
Described as a sinister, spine chilling mystery of murder and mayhem guaranteed to bring the house down, we all agreed, performed on stage, it certainly would and probably half of a flimsy set! The readers excelled in their roles and laughter was the order of the day. Great fun.
Our last play reading for the year will be a one act play before we retire to Rambling Rose to celebrate before the Christmas break, hope to see you all there.
Our Play Reading group numbered seven this month, nonetheless some very competent performances were presented. We read Falling from Grace, a play written by noted Australian playwright Hannie Rayson. The play portrayed female power in medicine, media and the office, positions held by best friends in the professional world. While juggling careers, families and lovers the friendships are tested. An enjoyable play which produced much discussion about offensive language in modern theatre and what is appropriate.
November promises to be a month with fewer COVID restrictions, we may even be able to have a coffee!
Our condolences to fellow member Pat on the passing of her dear husband. Our thoughts are with you, Pat.
Lovely to catch up with our members in August, although a somewhat disrupted year, thoughts go to those who work in live theatre. How difficult it has been for so many, yet plans have continued when able and hopes remain high for future productions. Perhaps next year we may be able to attend some local performances.
Our enthusiastic group embraced the reading of the play, A Lady Mislaid. First performed in the 1950’s and written by Kenneth Horne, the story involved two unmarried sisters renting a country cottage, seeking peace and quiet whilst one was recovering from a nervous breakdown. Within a short time police arrive and start looking for the dismembered wife of the previous tenant. Their quiet life becomes chaotic when the meek and timid husband of the supposed victim, arrives. Classed as a comedy thriller the play provided many amusing incidents, which all agreed would be delightful when performed on stage.
Unfortunately, due to lockdown we will be unable to meet for Playreading on September 1st.
Keep well, enjoy the sunshine and the colours and beauty of Spring.
See you all in October!
Due to various circumstances, we only had six members present for our playreading in July.
Speech and acting abilities were challenged, and the group responded admirably. Several members adapted to playing the roles of two characters and genders. The play chosen was Money and Friends by the inimitable playwright David Williamson. The play revealed the clash between materialism and ideals and the reaction of friends when confronted with the choice.
The members thoroughly enjoyed the play and many thanks to Joy for again stepping in to convene the morning session. Big cheerio to Patsy Bollard, hope you will be back with us soon.
David Williamson introducing 'Money and Friends' for a Play Reading in 2020
Well, aren’t we fortunate to not be involved with live theatre, so much work behind the scenes, and so disappointing for so many who have had to cancel performances. After cancelling our last Play Reading session, do hope we can meet up again on the 7th.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery to our very versatile reader Patsy Bollard, who has been confined following a fall.
Numbers were down for the May class of Play Reading, but undeterred the show went on! Thanks to Joy for managing the morning.
The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society again bought many laughs and lots of talent with the society’s version of Macbeth attempting to get them to the Welwyn Garden City Finals. All events conspired hilariously against them.
For our next session we may attempt one of David Williamson’s thought provoking plays on Australian life. Newcomers welcome.
April - 'Crown Matrimonial'
Eight keen readers participated at our April meeting. We read from the play Crown Matrimonial. A thought provoking and interesting play set in Marlborough House between 1936 and 1945 focusing on the private family drama of Edward VIII and the Royal Family leading to the abdication. The play portrayed the major constitutional crisis and the private and public conflict that ensued.
There was much discussion on the completion of our read, comparing present day conflict involving Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Jill also provided us with historic information on a number of members of the Royal Family in relation to the family tree.
Next month, on John's suggestion, we plan to read the hilarious The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomens's Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth. Some members will recall we read this play some time ago and we all went home smiling!
The curtain rose in March for our first gathering for the year. Seven participants keenly took part as we read from the chosen play, "But Why Bump Off Barnaby?" by Rick Abbot, a comedy thriller with a variety of characters. Readers quickly adapted to the part they were reading, showing their talents with aplomb as they portrayed their particular role. There were challenges galore, the play required heroes, baronets, detectives, movie stars, maids, butlers and more from whence people were poisoned, vanished and murdered before the murderer was eventually unmasked! Talent and laughs abounded!
Next month the chosen play is Crown Matrimonial, an engrossing play detailing the story of Edward the Eighth and his abdication.
We look forward to another morning of good company and good cheer.
After a long period of recess which involved most of 2020, members are looking forward to a year of creating our own "live theatre"! With some new members coming on board, our numbers have increased and our first get together will be on Wednesday 3rd March 9.30 at the U3A meeting room.
About the Play Reading group
9.30 to 12 noon
U3A Meeting Room 1, Fawckner Drive
Convening team members
Convenor - Joy Shirley
0417 065 351
Thank you, Jenny
Jenny McKenna recently stepped down from her Convening role after almost five years.
In February 2018 Jenny took over the co-convening 'admin support role' involving liaising with the Victorian Drama League re our chosen plays. This involved ordering and returning plays, and collecting weekly contributions towards costs.
Then, as Keith Rogers scaled down his role as convenor and 'creative director', Jenny stepped up to write newsletter reports, gradually taking on the role. Jenny continued in the role of convenor for over two years with the support of a small team in helping to choose the plays.
Thank you so much for your passion for playreading and the energies you put into ensuring the ongoing presence of Play Reading in the U3A Program, Jenny.
It is wonderful to have you back with us in class participating with enthusiasm in play reading as a member of the class.
Deniliquin play recommendations by author/
recommendations by date read/
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Photographs - U3A members; Benalla Art Gallery website; Weebly 'Free' images;Travel Victoria and State Library of Victoria