Marking Time, Frinton Summer Theatre

Marking Time by Michael Snelgrove, Frinton Summer Theatre until Saturday

Marking Time by Michael Snelgrove, Frinton Summer Theatre until Saturday

A pressurised weekend away for A-level English literature examiners. Tight deadlines to keep, rows, tensions, targets, warring egos, the convoluted language of Education Speak and even lost papers. It's a teacher's nightmare. Fortunately though, Michael Snelgrove's play, set in an overcrowded room at a teacher's centre, turns out to be a very clever stage comedy which blows the lid off the absurdities of the examination marking world.

At the root of it lie, as with all good comedy, the frailties of human nature.

Four annually returning regulars are joined by Judith, a go-getting attractive new colleague (played with a look-but-beware-touching cool by Augustina Seymour). She's bound to put the cat among the pigeons and alter the group dynamics.

Our five, trying to cope with piles of papers on Wordsworth, Smollett, Dickens, Pope, Milton and the rest make up Team B. Snowed under by the sheer volume of work, they are desperately trying to keep up with the hated (and seemingly more efficient) Team A, who're working in another room in this dreadful residential building.

What a group they are. Team leader Howard (Dean Lepley), exasperatingly insecure and rude, has had a series of weekend course affairs with Pat, played within an ace of perpetual hysteria by Kerry Owen. She wants to know, after seven years, if there's to be something more permanent in their relationship. Ian (Chris Porter) who, it's remarked, looks scruffy even when undressed, doesn't seem to have read the examination set books. Oliver (Geoff Aymer) still lives with his elderly mum who, we find out, is now trying to sabotage his weekends away from her.

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It's all set to go so horribly wrong. The merest hiccup or unforeseen error could make the whole pack of cards come tumbling down. Of course, that is exactly what happens.

There are some fine comic performances, well grafted together by director Simon West. Dean Lepley plays Howard at and beyond the end of his tether. I particularly enjoyed Geoff Aymer's self-effacing comic touches, playing a literature loving character distraught by his own shortcomings, but talking intense delight in adding to the discomfiture of his colleagues. When he spots why things are about to go wrong, we the audience enjoy with him the anticipation of impending chaos.

It's important a company doing a summer season offers something other than well-known chestnuts among its fare. Frinton has chosen well with this play.

Ivan Howlett

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