REVIEWS FROM THE ADELAIDE FRINGE 2010
WINNER: THE ADVERTISER - BEST FRINGE PLAY 2010
This ingenious black comedy from UK playwright Tim Whitnall is Fringe fare write large. The first of two splendid characters, Roy Tunt by name, is a birdwatcher, know-all and first-rate pedant.
His peaceful, quiet search for the only British bird hes never seen, the Sociable Plover, is disturbed by the sudden arrival of the rougher-hewn Dave, man of mystery on the run.
Guy Masterson and Ronnie Toms bring both characters to life, though in truth, to say much more is to give away one of the more monumental twists that's been seen on a stage in Adelaide these many years. It is, therefore, compulsory viewing. (Peter Burdon - Adelaide Advertiser 22/01/10)
The Best that theatre has to offer!
Guy Masterson and Ronnie Toms appear in a witty and dark comedy, written by Tim Whitnall, in which Roy Tunt (Masterson), an avid birdwatcher, is interrupted in his pursuit of that one elusive bird, Vanellus Gregarious, or the Sociable Plover, by the unexpected arrival in the hide of a stranger, Dave John (Toms).
Roy has recorded sightings of 566 of the 567 species of native British birds and needs only a sighting of this one bird to gain his place in the record books and bird watching history. His remote hide on the Suffolk Marshes, just as the day dawns, should be a peaceful escape from the world, and he is not expecting an intruder. When Dave arrives Roy at first mistakes him for a fellow 'twitcher', also seeking to sight the Sociable Plover, but he soon realises that he is greatly mistaken: bird watchers do not carry automatic pistols.
There are myriad differences between the middle class Roy and the working class Londoner, Dave, but, even so, they are British, and one cannot turn away a guest, even an uninvited and unwelcome guest, in inclement weather. Noblesse Oblige applies and hospitality, even reluctantly, must be offered.
As the play opens Masterson shows his wizardry with working stage business as he enters and silently, with the aid of surgical gloves and a small dustpan and brush, cleans and tidies the hide, sets out all of his paraphernalia, the binoculars, pad, pencils, thermos and, most importantly, his snack box containing Scotch eggs and his unique meat paste sandwiches. Then he lifts the shutters and settles down to watch for the Sociable Plover. Masterson's great skill in interpreting a role and immersing himself fully in the character has already told us vast amounts about Roy, with nary a word spoken. We know that he is way beyond fastidious, to the point of being anally retentive. This is a man who would be virtually impossible to live with and, as we discover later, his wife thought so, too.
Dave, however, is the complete opposite, a wide boy from the big smoke. The difference is easily seen when Dave is telling of his past jobs and mentions that he was a painter. Roy asks if he painted landscapes of portraits and is bemused when Dave announces that he painted corridors. They are from different worlds and this adds a great deal to the intricate interplay between them in the ensuing conversations as an uneasy comradeship gradually develops.
These two consummate actors bounce off each other, weaving their way through all of the plot's twists and turns, exploring the differences in the language used by their characters and completely engaging the audience's attention.
Masterson and Toms are a terrific double act as Toms acts largely as the straight man to Masterson's comic inventiveness. This is a display of generous give and take, as the focus moves to and fro between the characters. It is a vocal dance in which these two highly skilled performers, diverse as their characters are, make us believe that Roy and Dave could really develop a mutual respect and understanding, even an emerging friendship, in such a short time.
This play has got to be on your list this year if you lay claim to being a lover of the best that theatre has to offer. (Barry Lenny -GLAM Adelaide -23/02/10)
Stimulating and satisfying and well worth seeing more than once.
The Sociable Plover is a powerful, credible and particularly well-cast, darkly comic drama. Shot with shades of grey, the suspense builds in calculated paces and keeps the audience guessing until the wonderful denouement.
The result is a firm, strung-out and decidedly theatrical piece that's absorbing with a perceptive and bright performance from the ever reliable Guy Masterson.
A clever, slow-burning thriller unfolding in an ornithologist's hide is the perfect vehicle for the Welshman and his portrayal of Roy Tunt, an obsessive compulsive birdwatcher is both enjoyable and satisfying.
Tunt arrives at the hide in the Sussex marshes, in the hope of seeing the Sociable Plover, which is the only one of the 567 birds that inhabits the British Isles that he has not already seen. With meticulous precision, he sets out his equipment and cleans the hide in preparation for his 'Big Day.' In this sedate opening sequence, he shares his thoughts affectionately with a photograph of his ex-wife.
But the tranquillity is soon broken with the unexpected arrival of a highly suspicious Cockney ruffian named Dave, played by Ronnie Toms. Both men harbour secrets and although on opposite sides of the social spectrum both men have a few similarities. 'It's a murder of crows and a deceit of lapwings', Roy explains to Dave, and both metaphors are important in the surprise ending in this exceptional twohander.
Ultimately, the play is both stimulating and satisfying and well worth seeing more than once. (Steven Davenport - Adelaide Theatre Guide - 20/02/10)
Acting fantastic, great plot twist! (Jimbo)
Huge fun and superbly acted. These actors deserve full houses every night. A clever, twisting plot and wonderful characterisation. (SJT)
'The Sociable Plover', by Tim Whitnall, is like Harold Pinter's 'The Dumb Waiter' - two men, locked together in one location, saying so much, while saying s very little. Guy Masterson and Ronnie Toms share the stage and the mastery of Whitnall's words, matching wits, exchanging bards and leading us, tantalisingly, to a climactic twist of Pinteresque proportions. Catch the Plover, but if you spot the ending, keep it to yourself. A must see! (Glen Christie)
Another enjoyable performance from the Guy Masterson theatre group. Always a high standard of script and performance, in this case a double hander. The plot has many twists and turns and kept my interest throughout. Highly recommended. (John H)
EdgeR wrote: I stayed awake the whole time which is unusual. The impeccable actors bring every moment to life in these fastidious and heart-warming (respectively) characters. The plot maintains intrigue and unfolding surprises. Is Toms blind or merely in one? Do yourself a favour. See it.
A man prepares his hide for a day of quiet 'twitching' - attempting to spot the only bird he has never seen. His solitude, however, is broken by the arrival of a 'geezer' seeking shelter from the rain. The very different men share a humorously uncomfortable conversation but begin to bond before the truth of their pasts are revealed and things take a darker turn. Excellent performances from both actors in a great play. Watch the twitcher get twitchier. (Matthew)
Plover is not only hilarious but a great double hander. Masterson's Tunt is a truly classic character matched well by Toms' straight man act. This was play was recently made into a film called "The Hide". (InnKeeper)
Another little gem from Guy Masterson's Centre for International Theatre - Masterson and Toms bounce off each other with wit and ease. Amazing how a sound track and little furniture can transport you to another world! (Kooky)
This is a very well crafted piece of writing, performed superbly by two very accomplished actors, it was riveting from first to last and Masterson and toms bounce off each other with ease as the plot is revealed, great writing ,great acting, great show. thank you gentlemen for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. (Mr Ingham)
Masterson is at his brilliant best as the fastidious Tunt, and Toms is equally as fabulous as the mud-splattered, hungry Dave. The two give a wonderful performance and reeled me in hook, line and sinker! See the Sociable Plover while it's on - or you may never get to tick the box! (KateFraser)
This enthralling thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat and then... Guy Masterson and Ronnie Toms make the dynamic duo well worth seeing and will change your view of twitchers. (Tunkallila)
This was really, really good! Prepare to be transported to a bird hide on a windy night in the UK, using only the vehicle of a beguiling script, two controlled and excellent actors and a sparsely furnished set. An hour later you shake your head as you return to Adelaide in 2010. World class Fringe. (Eweee)
Go and see this craftily constructed and brilliantly written play. Guy Masterson tooth grindingly. (ArkH)
A story that gently reels you in, performed by two great actors with impeccable timing and great attention to detail. Made me want to throw the TV out of the window and join the theatre myself. And I don't even like birds. (Joshka_Poliako)
While providing a healthy measure of laughter, there's also a depth to this play which is achieved through well realised characters and a tight plot. Masterson's Roy is delightfully anal and is matched well by the slightly gruff, and rather mysterious, Dave. Much of the humour of the piece is drawn from the accurately researched, highly odd, world of bird watching and an outsider's introduction to it. It's a joy to discover and experience a play that is both funny and dramatic, as this is. (Mia)
Good quality Fringe stock. A great tale told by two very accomplished English actors. There is some great banter between them and the story is full of surprises. Will make you laugh and wince. Good proper theatre that ticks all the boxes. By the watyI've seen a couple of plays in this venue now and it is one of the best at the fringe. Nice bar too. (AnSa)
A quintessentially English theme: Birdwatching. Ordinary enough activity with an extraordinary twist! Black comedy and pathos cleverly intertwined, with a subtle dig at the English Class System and stereotyping in general. The actors look like each other, furthering the idea that there is a bit of both classes in all of us. Great set, costuming and sound effects. Masterson is perfect as the anal English ornithologist and Ronnie Toms superb as the much-misjudged cockney "species". Intense show! (Ringer)
I left the theatre feeling great. Brilliant performances, great script, cool set too. You don't have to think about this show - it is just pure entertainment with a great twist. I also loved the details... sitting in the front row I could smell the hot bovril (ew!) and see the mud and water on their clothes. PERFECT! (Madame P)
Once again Guy Masterson at his very best.Ronnie Toms is perfect opposite Masterson but I shouldn't reveal the plot! Go and see it and enjoy the interactions between these two very different and amusing characters.I also thought the set, lighting and sound effects were very clever. Great acting and a superb British play!I (Vinylcutter)
WHAT A PERFECT LITTLE GEM! After seeing Scaramouche Jones in the same theatre not 20 mins earlier, I was stunned by the turnaround from that EPIC to this beautiful bird hide. The play itself is almost too clever to review. Suffice, you have to go with it and, through brilliantly witty dialogue, superb comic timing we have come to expect from Guy Masterson expertly foiled by Ronnie Toms, supremely created tension with a truly fantastic twist you just can't see coming, you have PERFECT THEATRE! A1 (Captain Cat)
REVIEWS FROM THE EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010
"When a play has the Masterson seal, it very rarely disappoints. After surviving sixteen years on the Fringe, Guy Masterson is a master pedagogue, a purveyor of quality Fringe shows, and the Sociable Plover is one from his top drawer.
This is one very difficult play to tell the story of, without giving away the wonderful twists and turns of the plot. However, try I must.
Tim Whitnall's script is superb, it is a comedy of manners, dark indeed black in bits but highly comedic. Fun lines like "I was Nijinsky with Mr Muscle", or "a lifetime of Paste" stay in the memory.
Picture the scene, a birdwatcher's hut or hide on the marshes, an anal retentive, obsessive compulsive twitcher is laying out his space for today's ornithological session, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare Vanellus gregarius, the Sociable Plover, which would complete his collection of twitched British birds.
Our first view is of a pedantic and precise Roy Tunt (Guy Masterson) constructing his mobile desk within the hide, pencils to attention, all things in their meticulous place.
Suddenly a stranger arrives in the hut, Magwitch style, wet, highly suspicious, a working class Londoner called Dave (Ronnie Toms). It would appear the stranger is the exact opposite of the middleclass Roy.
The "townie", Jack the lad labourer, verses the Tory countryman, could be implied. Condescension becomes the immediate language weapon used by Roy to dominate the situation.
So it begins and that's as far as I am going to take the story, although what I will tell you is that the twists and turns of this play are exquisite and are beautifully unpredictable. It's a brilliant journey of a story, extremely well told by two superb craftsmen who work well off each other.
The interactive relationship between Masterson and Toms builds beautifully, and nostalgically reminded me of the very best acting, from the Play for Today series of the black and white television days.
This a brilliant two hander of a play, in which the acting, writing, and direction give us a masterclass in what criteria should be applied when you talk about the very best of Fringe theatre. Enough said! No there's a bit more.
Simply, excellent, thank you for an extremely enjoyable afternoon, gentlemen!" (John Ritchie, 13/08/09 - Edinburgh Guide)
"It is every playwright's dream when a production company takes a film option on that early piece that once briefly played a small studio space. Nonetheless, it does happen. It has happened this year to one of Wales' best theatre writers as it happened to writer Tim Whitnall. August 19th Film4 showed the film adaptation of his two-hander the Sociable Plover.
Premiered at the Old Red Lion Theatre in 2005 its well-deserved revival, directed by the author, was one of six plays from the Guy Masterson production stable presented at Edinburgh 2009. It had the added allure that the lead part had attracted Guy Masterson himself away from his customary solo performances. 'A stretch' he has said 'One of those roles that just don't pop up... a challenge that has reminded me that acting is not always uncomplicated.'
From the viewer's perspective Whitnall's character Roy Tunt is simply a glorious creation, milked by Guy Masterson for all he is worth. The play's first few minutes are played in silence and a half-light as Roy tidies his bird-watching hide, surgical gloves fastidiously worn and discarded. With his thermos, his chicken paste sandwiches, his model train set, his mince of a walk and his pedantic phraseology Roy is clearly one of the quiet ones.
With the irruption of Ronnie Toms' taut, scarred Dave, gun in back pocket, the action leaps into gear and Tim Whitnall's dialogue flies. 'Got you down as a scotch egg man?' asks Roy offering Dave a bite to eat. Speaking of his tidy home he was 'like Nijinsky with the Mr Muscle.' Discoursing on the passion of the ornithologist he sings the high-note song of the winter warbler and mimics the sound of a passing gaggle of geese.
His protagonist is the boy with the estuary accent who was expelled from school. His holidays were spent in 'Saarf-end', his favourite adjective is 'faarking', he has a beloved bother in the forces. For Roy's benefit he runs through his list of past livelihoods. Included among the unskilled occupations 'I was a painter, once.' 'Really?' says Roy, 'Portrait or landscape?' 'Naa- corridors!'
The Sociable Plover is a model of what a two-hander ought to be, crisp, fresh dialogue, a satisfying arc of a plot with a clever authorial twist, an economical sixty minutes that does not stay a minute too long.
As genres theatre and film are both separate and symbiotic. It is rare that a viewer gets to see film and play just eight days apart and the contrast is instructive. The film has a lot of class, led by the photography of the Suffolk marshes and a fine music score. But it is interesting that a performance text is much more protean. The film is a genre-defined thriller. The audience began to chortle over Roy's first five minutes of finickety preparations. That laughter continued to roll. If the audience laughs that is what it becomes, a comedy, and a deliciously black one at that. Production values were very high. Set and sound design were not credited in the programme but Robyn Clogg must have been involved. Overall, The Sociable Plover made for a fine and wholly satisfying addition to the Masterson track record." (Adam Somerset - 21/08/09 Theatre In Wales)
"The Sociable Plover is a twisting tale of intrigue and, strangely, bird-watching. Enjoying its Fringe-only run as part of hyperactive director Guy Masterson's epic Edinburgh festival innings - he's directing four productions in total - this may be the avid theatre-goer's last chance to catch this remarkably captivating play on stage.
Starring Masterson as the reclusive ornithologist Roy Tunt, this is in large part an exploration of the distinctively male obsession with collecting things. Tunt is on the cusp of entering into bird-watching legend, as he sets out in his hideaway to record a rare sighting of the sociable plover when in bursts cockney geezer Dave John seeking shelter from the rain. The two pass the time chatting, in an awkward, staccato kind of way, slowly bonding as the hours slip by. But proceedings quickly turn dark, when Tunt receives a radio message from the police, informing him of the presence of a dangerous fugitive in the area; describing a man who looks eerily like John.
This is a superbly performed production, which works brilliantly despite its seemingly rather pedestrian premise. Masterson captures perfectly Tunt's intense banality, while co-star and author Tim Whitnail is simultaneously a lovable yet slightly sinister cockney rogue. With a cruel twist and a wickedly dark sense of humour, catching this excellent production before its run ends... perhaps for the last time... is highly recommendable." (Ben Judge 22/08/09 - Fest Magazine)
"Lights gently come up on a twitchers' hut. Enter Roy Tunt, ornithologist, carefully tidying up, ready for a possible marathon shift watching for the prize sighting of that rarest of birds, the Sociable Plover, talking to a framed photo of his wife. Enter "Dave", a name quickly plucked from the air by a character with a hunted look in his eye. Why is Dave out here in the wilderness? Is he really walking off a hangover, simply sheltering from the rain?
The claustrophobic setting of a small hut in a flooded forest provides the ideal vessel for a black comedy that is full of witty interplay, allowing both Ronnie Toms and Guy Masterson to play off each other, explore the human condition, get on each other's nerves and, most of all, find common ground through their mutual differences.
Secrets are hinted at, secrets are revealed in a play that manages to flow beautifully from start to finish. There's a marvellous sense of waiting, not just for the bird of the play's title to finally show itself, but also for the mysteries at the heart of the play to also emerge. Silences are as important as the witty dialogue; there's as much comedy in a sideways glance or a grunt from Masterson as there is from some of the marvellous banter that forms the engine of this two-hander. Ronnie Toms plays "Dave John" with such impressive comic timing, he's funny as a straight man to Masterson's highly comic attempt to be the straight man himself. We end up with an often hilarious verbal duel of two men both trying to be the straight man. What a bit of genius writing!
This is a play with all the hallmarks of outstanding direction: pitch-perfect timing between the two characters; an attention to detail - the opening five minutes of the play are hilarious as we enjoy Tunt's ritualistic tidying of the Twitchers' hut. Tension builds well towards the end of the play and, without revealing, the tale's sting, the reaction of the audience said it all - the build-up is perfect, the climax just right, the ending, touching and played with just the right touch of pathos.
Dialogue plays work best when the writer isn't noticed and, in The Sociable Plover, the writer has retreated into the background allowing the comedy to blend splendidly with the darker themes and unfolding events. The director has allowed the very best in these two actors to come forward as well - the tension between the two of them, which develops into a kind of uneasy "entente cordialle" is the basis for much of the comedy punch.
The set is all of a piece, and there's much to be said here for the symmetry of it - we're right-angle-on, seeing two sides of the hut, looking through invisible outer walls into the space; and there's clever lighting and soundscape to really evoke the twitchers' realm.
Fine writing, fine acting, sharp and strong directing, this is direct, dark comedy theatre at its very best." (Paul Levy 21/08/09 - Fringereview.com)
"They don't call him 'Mr Edinburgh' for nothing. Guy Masterson knows a thing or two about putting on a good Fringe show... and this neat little comedy, one of six productions of his at this year's festival, is a case in point.
The Sociable Plover, first seen at London's Old Red Lion in 2005, was the debut play by Tim Whitnall, the author of another Masterson 2009 offering, Morecambe, which has just won a Fringe First Award. Whitnall and Masterson decided to revive the two-hander just for the fun of it, something to fill a bit more time during their month in Edinburgh. (Whitnall, who directs, was also meant to co-star, but a knee injury forced him to withdraw.)
Masterson plays Roy Tunt, a fastidious bird-watching geek on the brink of ornithological greatness: he's just one sighting away from recording every British bird. The sociable plover of the title has always eluded him, but it's Roy's big day; the plover is close. In a dimly lit hide in the Suffolk marshes, he settles in with his binoculars, notebooks and Tupperware stacks filled with carefully prepared sandwiches.
His plans are disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Dave (Ronnie Toms) - a bird of a very different feature... a working-class, gun-toting Cockney is a spiffy dark suit. Despite their differences, the two men seem to rub along nicely, until the stakes are raised by a walkie-talkie alert about a fugitive who may match Dave's description. Here Whitnall's story takes a remarkably nasty turn, with a twist in the tail that's totally surprising. Things... and people... are not at all what they initially seem.
Masterson and Toms make a terrific team in a terrifically dark and suspenseful play. Definitely not just for bird-watchers." (Terri Paddock 22/08/09 - What's On Stage)
"This new two hander play written and directed by Tim Whitnall and starring Fringe director & producer extraordinaire Guy Masterson alongside Ronnie Toms, is very tasty, very accessible and yet surprisingly dark joy.
Set in a bird hyde on the marshes, it opens with Roy Tunt (Masterson) cleverly but silently displaying the kind of man he is, allowing us, as he does, to settle into the world of this drama. He is in search of the rare Sociable Plover, to complete his bird-watching career.
Just when we feel we have established Roy's world, the status quo is shattered by a sudden intruder; an intruder both physically and culturally and its in this collosion that we get to the meat, in all senses, of the play.
Performed with precison and wit by both actors, the drama unpacks itself effortlessly and heads towards a surprising twist. It pulls you in right away and doesn't release you until the final curtain.
This is a thoroughly satisfying piece of drama that put me in mind of many 60s and 70s Play For Today. It is written with excellent pace and no small degree of craft.
Dave's character could have a little more developed perhaps as we only get a headline indication of what brings him to this place, in this state of mind, but that would be to quibble and perhaps be greedy. This is Roy Tunt's big day; a day which turns out to be his biggest day of all.
Perfect Fringe drama that stimulates and satisfies." (John Nicholson 18/08/09 - The Daily Mirror)