Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Play it Again Sam - a superb production.

'Play it again Sam' by Woody Allen.

The Lace Market Theatre.
September 2004.

I think if there ever a play I was able to get the opportunity to be involved with again, as the lead, it would be Woody Allen's silly three act farce 'Play it Again Sam'.

Original poster framed
Max Bromley directed the Lace Market Theatre production back in 2004 and also designed and built the set with a wonderful backdrop of New York apartments. This was another play where the cast wanted to move into Alan Felix's fictional apartment as it was so well designed and constructed. The photos accompanying this article were taken during a dress rehearsal and the empty book cases were actually full of American books and authentic magazines for the show.

Alan Felix (the Woody Allen character) lives in New York and is a writer for various film magazines. He has an obsession for Humphrey Bogart and sees him as the ultimate macho man who always 'gets the dames'. Alan Felix is the opposite of macho cool; nervy,  a hypochondriac, desperate for love and sex, nerdy and self consciously witty. He has just been dumped by his ex wife is feeling very down at the start of the play.

His best friend, Dick ( a workaholic) and his attractive wife Linda try to set him up with a new woman on a series of disastrous dates. Each date gets worse and worse and in the Lace Market Theatre production we had one actress playing his ex wife Nancy plus all the other women he dated. This led to some very funny scenes where Alison, who played all the would be girlfriends, would go off stage as one character, rip off the costume and come back on as another character. As the play is essentially a New York farce all the actors had similar moments to deal with especially when things hot up and Alan Felix starts to date his best friend’s wife Linda and feels impassioned but dreadfully guilty at the same time. Typical Woody Allen fare and enormous fun to do.

Sally who played Linda recalls being helped with a really fast change backstage and the zipper caught on the dress she had to remove, to then put on another, before I opened the door to let her.in. I don't think the audience heard her repeatedly and frantically whispering “Not YET, not YET!” If I'd have opened the door the audience would have seen far more than they should have!


A lot of the action is based in the apartment and we used the front of the stage areas for outdoor scenes such as the 'day in the park scene' the 'disco scene' and the 'art gallery'. The main lighting for the apartment was dimmed with the acting areas lit to suggest the venue. We sourced a selection of film posters featuring Bogart and some were directly referred to in the text.

In the auditions there was a worry that we would struggle to get a man to be convincing in the Bogart role but then John Parker stepped and did the Bogart character brilliantly. Likewise, a new member called James Walker was just right as my best friend Dick in all his comedy incarnations.


The text was often very fast paced and quirky and very very funny. Most rehearsals we were in tucks at the ridiculous plot and the great wit that Woody Allen is renowned for in his comedies. Max Bromley's superb direction helped us all with the comic actions and comic timing and made sure that the show was the huge success that it was. Plus, of course, the support from backstage and the sound and lighting technicians.

Playing Alan Felix, I spent quite a lot of time reading about Woody Allen and watching some of his earlier comedies to get the quirky nuances and vocal coughs and ticks that he employs when talking and was thrilled and delighted when, almost at the last minute, I managed to get a pair of glasses from Nottingham's Gray and Bull optician's that were the same as Woody Allen's 1960's library glasses. This pair had no glass in them and that really helped with audience being able to see my eyes. A lot of feelings are conveyed through the eyes.


One of my fondest memories from the show, and there are many, was a fantasy scene where the character of Linda comes on to Alan Felix big time and throws him to the floor then pounces on top of him. Sally (Linda) and I could hardly contain ourselves from laughing all the way up to the dress rehearsals and then the director decided to add in a sultry soundtrack of  Serge Gainsbourg's 'Je t' aime'. How we got through each performance with a live audience there I do not know!


Edited notes I made to myself after the last night:

'I was on such a high last night that I couldn't sleep and finally grabbed fours worth at 4am this morning, finally dragging myself out of bed at 10am Sunday morning. No more looking in the mirror mouthing words by Woody Allen. I think I'll miss that.


For starters I've wanted to do this play since it was announced that it would be the first play of this artistic season and the opportunity came up to play Alan Felix, the lead part (practically Woody Allen) and the rest of the small cast chosen, were perfect. The director Max has been a source of inspiration throughout the whole three months rehearsal. A great teacher and an absolute pleasure to work with from start to finish. The rehearsals were very hard work, particularly as I am working full time as well, but very fulfilling and fun. Thanks goodness I took a week off work to do this.


Our last night was a dream come true, a full and very appreciative audience who laughed at everything, even things we thought were funny but with some audiences hadn't raised a titter. What a fabulous feeling to generate laughter through Woody's play and lines; my character and our cast's interpretation of events unfolding on the stage. By the end of the longer second act the whole place was buzzing with excitement and we were eager to 'whack it to 'em' in the third and final act. And we did!

As the curtain closed on us and we got ready for our line up we were like little kids at Christmas, bouncing around with joy and a tremendous sense of achievement. Two curtain calls and a standing ovation, cheers, clapping and a sea of delighted faces followed and us brave four were grinning from ear to ear. The curtain closed for the last time and we all gave each other big hugs and sincere “well dones” to close the experience. What a feeling! Great camaraderie and a brilliant job well done.

We had ten minutes in the bar where we were heartily congratulated by the remaining audience and club members. Extremely positive comments all around. All that effort I and my friends had put in over the last three months had paid off. I am so pleased and proud of myself and the stirling efforts from the director, other actors, the backstage crew and technicians to make the whole thing a success.

After all that applause there then came the call to go back downstairs and help take the set down. A mammoth job but with some extra hands it was done in two hours and the stage swept clean by midnight. Then we wearily climbed back upstairs to some welcome food and champagne and a calm down and a chance to look back on our week. Our sound man, Daniel, gave me a lift home and I unpacked my 'prize' of a big framed Casablanca poster and I shall put that up in my bedroom later today.


I have decided to keep the glasses as a memento and I am still covered in bruises from the 'action' during the week. They will heal and my wild hair will be shorn early next week so I don't look quite such a geek!'

Sunday 26th September 2004

Great times, great laughs and I wish I could 'Play it Again Sam' again.

To order a script of Play It Again Sam click Amazon link above.


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