Few Forest Forge Christmas productions have ever topped Midnight is a Place. The story, involving the dealings of a mill, is fast moving and a little hard to follow but for sheer entertainment and real quality acting this is a real masterpiece.
There is so much to enjoy and the four actors play 20 roles between them and, in the latter stages, this bring some delightfully amusing moments when certain characters are required on stage at the same time.
When you arrive, the seemingly basic fit-up set gives no hint of the ingenious surprises to follow. Suddenly, there is a mill, factory, sewers, a market, witch, a hospital and a beautifully effective coach and horse ride. The strength of Forest Forge productions is teamwork, with never a television star in sight. In this one their work rate would leave a few Premiership footballers gasping. The story, which initially helps to depict the British slave labour days of punishing mills and factories, is cleverly lightened by some opportunities for the youngsters to react in true pantomime style.
All four actors are outstanding but in Chris Barlow they have one of the most charismatic performers the group has ever discovered. His amazing versatility, booming voice, exquisite diction and admirable manoeuvrability, for such a sizeable man, make him a joy to watch. He brings all this attributes to Mr Oakapple, the tutor, Mr Throgmorton, the lawyer, Gudgeon, a real baddie, and a rather surprise nurse, amongst others.
This incredible production is no one-man show. For the second year running Andrew Wheaton proves a master of the quick turnaround by playing ten parts - and each one is so detailed and effective, however small. Lee Rufford, as the hero Lucas Bell, makes a real impact and his scenes and duet with Julie Rose Smith, as Anna Marie, are among the highlights. Julie also excels as Mrs Braithwaite and Mr Horace Gobthorpe, the tax man.
The original songs, written by John Sebastian Brown, make an instant impact. Once again, Forest Forge is bringing true quality professional shows to tiny villages throughout southern England.