HOW do The Parish Players do it? Each year they pack audiences and quality productions into the delightful but tiny Tockington Village Hall.

Their secret lies in an excellent team. Bristol Old Vic-trained Linda Evans always makes the right choice of musical and expertly guides the company into producing a most professional production. No wonder NODA has awarded her a silver bar for 45 years’ service to amateur theatre.

Thornton Wilder’s comedy “The Matchmaker” was transformed by Jerry Herman into a punchy musical. The challenges for set are considerable. However, in the capable and creative hands of Andy Black and the very efficient stage crew, the action was made to travel effortlessly from hat shop to feedstore, restaurant or street scene, all set against wonderful abstract images of 1890’s New York. (What is his secret that also allows him to play the demanding role of the grouchy Horace Vandergelder with huge panache?) Richard Churchill and Tom Grey added much atmosphere with sensitive and well-timed lighting effects. Well chosen, colourful and even amusing props and costumes completed the feast for the eye.

The music itself is perhaps not the most memorable, with the exception of “Hello Dolly”. However, the cast made the most of it with attack and enthusiasm. They were expertly supported by the crisp, pacy direction and accompaniment headed by Chloe Allsopp – Jones. A most memorable scene was that set in an upper-class restaurant where the action has to dash between tables and waiters, who thoroughly deserved the warm applause for their amusing but complicated routine.

Every member of the cast worked extremely hard with many playing several characters, and all having to maintain demanding dialogue in American accents. They also carried off a variety of lively space-defying dance routines conceived by choreographer Jill Harris.

Linda Chappell as the flirtatious Ernestina, Richard Newley and Esther Sully as the thwarted lovers gave some delightful , well-timed comic moments. Ray Hale (another NODA silver medallist) and Chris Bentley as the two shop assistants determined to find excitement in their humdrum lives, complemented each other beautifully and won the audience with their boyish antics. Amy Sunderland sparkled in her confident performance of Minnie, and once initial nerves were settled, Lesley Clarke made a charmingly mischievous Irene Malloy. Laura Pritchard invested an enormous amount of energy in her substantial role creating a warm, sparky and winning Dolly.

The late Mike Huish, a stalwart of the Parish Players, to whom the production was dedicated, would have been very proud of everyone on and off the stage.

Review by Barbie Davies