Theatre Review: The Card @ The New Vic

Credit: Mark Douet
The Card at the New Vic Theatre By Arnold Bennett A new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew Directed by Conrad Nelson Cast Gareth Cassidy Howard Chadwick Isobel Chadwick Jessica Dyas Christopher Glover Jenny Murphy Molly Roberts Eddy Westbury

There have been a number of hits in the current New Vic Season but The Card is up with the very best as it brings together all of the qualities that have been evident at the Basford venue ever since its inception.

A tale originally produced as a novel by the Potteries’ very own Arnold Bennett way back in Edwardian times it was introduced to a wider audience when made into a film in the 1950s with none other than Sir Alec Guinness playing the lead role of Denry Machin.

Originally brought back to life by Claybody Theatre, the current production is a joint effort with the New Vic and provides the perfect evening’s entertainment with laughter, music and excellent staging that is backed by first-class performances from a cast that includes many familiar faces.

Machin (Gareth Cassidy) is an opportunist who seizes every chance to climb the social ladder. The son of a humble seamstress, he begins as a humble clerk in the offices of Mr Duncalf (Howard Chadwick). His progress upwards begins when he wangles himself an invitation to a ball thrown by the Countess of Chell (Molly Roberts). Perfecting his dancing skills with tuition from Ruth Earp (Jessica Dyas), he accepts a wager from Harold Etches (Christopher Glover) to ask the Countess for a dance.

The £5 won from the wager allows Denry entry into a world where he is able to make steady progress through society’s ranks. Every opening sees the young man become ever richer and he eventually achieves his goal of becoming Bursley’s youngest-ever Mayor and the saviour of the local football club. All of which allows the Chair of the Denry Machin Society (Eddy Westbury) to unveil a statue to the town’s hero.

Unfortunately, Denry’s successes in the business field are not matched with his romantic exploits. A promising start to his relationship with Ruth proves to be a false dawn and it takes a while to realise that her companion Nellie (Jenny Murphy) is the one for him.

Director Conrad Nelson has produced a masterpiece of entertainment with some beautifully crafted moments – the madcap scenes of the runaway pantechnicon and its squelchy finale in the Shropshire Union Canal alongside the mule cart ride to Hanbury are definite highlights; never has a sugar lump been more sensually offered; and the finale to Act 1 that re-enacts the end of the summer season in Llandudno is both charming and delightful.

Nelson was able to call on the talents of Beverley Norris-Edmunds who directed some excellent choreography, Musical Director Rebekah Hughes who provided some beautiful music and song and Dawn Allsopp who designed excellent period costumes.

The acting was superb throughout. The lovable Machin could not have been more perfectly played than by Cassidy. He swept the audience along with his joy in pleasing people and Gareth’s facial expressions were worth the cost of admission on their own. Cassidy was the only member of the cast not to play multiple parts and his fellow actors were superbly versatile – Chadwick and Glover played very bearded ladies!! Isobel Chadwick must be proud to make her professional stage debut in this wonderful production.

With the musical backing of Acceler8 brass band and the support of Claybody Community Company (and several members of the audience), this was an evening that will live long in the memory and the performers fully deserved their standing ovation.

Denry Machin was accused of not doing a day’s work in his life but his purpose was to provide pleasure. He certainly provided huge pleasure to this reviewer and the production superbly showcases the literary talents of a largely-forgotten author. Congratulations to the New Vic and everyone involved for a magnificent show. This card trumps all others.