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Castle Hill Players: Almost, Maine - Review by Rhonda Hancock

I always look forward to a visit to the Pavillion Theatre – the Castle Hill Players always deliver a good quality production – and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. 

I was initially very curious about the play, and wasn’t sure what to expect  – the title “Almost, Maine'' gave no clue to the content, and was intriguing in itself. After a bit of background research, I discovered that the play consisted of a collection of scenes with the overriding theme of love – small vignettes about finding love in its various forms, and in many different situations. It sounded a lot like “Love Actually” – which is one of my favourite movies, so of course I was looking forward to seeing the play. 

It’s always a challenge to stage a play that consists of independent scenarios, and requires a number of scene changes to create the right setting for each story - this particular play is set on a cold night in the middle of winter, in various locations around a mythical town called “Almost”. Designer Trevor Chaise solved this challenge with a simple, yet functional set design. Rows of snowdrifts were a permanent fixture of the set, giving the audience the immediate sense of winter in Maine, USA. Switching between scenes was seamless, with the addition of a few well-chosen furniture items, and panels with cut out shapes that worked in tandem with the lighting (designed by James Winters) to illuminate the panels and create the desired image – a tree, a house, a washing machine, or a door. Another aspect of Winters’ lighting design, and a major feature of the set, was the simulated aurora borealis, which created a whimsical, magical mood at key moments throughout the play.  Complimenting the visual setting were the soundscapes, created by Paul Sztelma, which were very effective in communicating to the audience where the action in each scenario was taking place – I knew straight away whether I was in in someone’s yard, at the ice skating rink, at a bar, in the park, or at the laundromat.  Kudos to the stage crew (led by Denise Winters and Emily Steadman) for the smooth and efficient transitions. Rounding out the design team is Annette Snars, who did a great job maintaining the overall vibe and characterisations through her careful costume choices.

The play opened with two characters on a park bench, played by Toby Rowe and Holky Bramble, who were able to perfectly convey the sweet awkwardness of young love. Each actor in this production plays multiple roles, and these two actors were standouts for me. Rowe’s characterisations were brilliant.  He is to be commended on his sensitive and insightful portrayal of “Steve”, a young man with ASD, in the scene “This Hurts”, where there was great chemistry between Rowe and Jessie Peake, making it one of my favourite vignettes.  Peake played all her four characters with energy and conviction, and was able to convincingly portray a range of emotions and character traits – vulnerable, nervous, self-protective, frustrated, irritated and aloof. I really enjoyed the first scene (Her Heart) when Peake teamed with Nick Roberts, who did a great job portraying the confused but sincere “East''. Chris Scarpellino and Kate Gandy also gave convincing performances – I felt a twinge of sympathy for both their characters in the scene “Sad and Glad” when Scarpellino conveyed a sense of defeat as the broken hearted “Jimmy”, while Gandy believably portrayed “Sandrine’s” discomfort as their conversation became awkward. Holky Bramble was also very entertaining as the sassy waitress in this vignette. In all his scenes, Scarpellino displayed a great sense of humour and comedic timing and portrayed the amusing side of being in love. I found his characters very relatable and engaging. 

Director Meredith Jacobs is to be congratulated on assembling such a talented and versatile ensemble. Supported by her cast and crew, Jacobs did a great job bringing this script to life and presenting the concept of love and its many facets – seeking love, losing love, unrequited love, breaking up, falling in and out of love, and finding love in the most unexpected places. The play was touching, heart-warming, and highly entertaining. 

If you’ve ever fallen in love, or have sought or lost love, (or had an embarrassing date) you will definitely relate to this play.  Do come and see the show and spend a cold night in a town in Maine with an unusual name. (Why is the town named “Almost?” You will find the answer when you come and see the play!)

Photograpghs credit to Chris Lundie

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