Haddock and Chips Twice

A few nights ago I was lucky enough to attend another one of the Octagon Theatre’s Top Five Play Readings Festival events, which was ‘Haddock and Chips Twice’ by Janet Plater. This was a two-handed play, with Denise Welch and Christopher Connel skilfully playing all the characters.

Some useful narration, in terms of stage direction and scene setting, were provided with great humour by actor Rob Ward, who even broke from his role at one point to join in very enthusiastically with a disco dancing scene! The narration had been included to make things much clearer and more easily understood by the audience, as the play was being read without the costumes and props that would have given the necessary visual clues.

The action centres around Bob’s chip shop on the seafront in Whitley Bay, which is a hub of the local community and has been in his family for years. Bob is a kind and likeable character, who runs the place with the help of the witty and gregarious Brenda. It’s a busy shop and they have a varied clientele, from regulars to clubbers and passing trade. The conversations and monologues are interrupted by a stream of orders for haddock, chips, mushy peas and Fanta, not to mention the ubiquitous battered sausage (forks on the corner of the counter). From a proud run through of his photos, Bob also tells us that they have had some celebrity customers too, including Robson Green, Cheryl Cole (sic) and even Denise Welch!

Bob likes taking photos and has a camera with him, taking shots of himself, Brenda and the shop as the shift goes on, between phone calls home to his wife and kids. Brenda, meanwhile, reminisces about a teenage romance she had with Johnnie Waltzers, a lad from the fairground and gets told off for leaving her Hob Nobs on the fish preparation surface out the back.

As a host of different characters pass through the shop, a narrative starts to emerge, through their conversations, about a twelve year old local girl who has gone missing. The Police come in to ask questions and suspicions start to be raised about some strangers who have passed through the shop. Denise Welch played a range of female characters, including a young girl out clubbing, a homeless lady called Susan, a sad and lonely elderly lady, a Police Superintendent and even Amy, the missing girl. The characters were engaging and convincing, and delivered with confidence and clarity.

I think it’s fair to say that Christopher Connel stole the show with his drunken, dumped guy and his camp soldier was also very funny. He then walks back into Brenda’s life as Johnny, her former beau, and there was an affectionate humour behind the teasing banter they share. The customers are used as a foil to draw out character traits from Brenda and Bob, so we get to know them better, or to move the story along.

As an audience member said afterwards, not a great deal really happened, as such, but it was refreshing to have an entertaining, character-led, story that didn’t have a bleak or tragic ending. Once again I really enjoyed the evening and I am disappointed that I am unable to get to the two remaining performances on Monday and Wednesday next week. If you can, then what are you waiting for? Get in touch and book a place now, before it’s too late!

Carole Ogden for Bolton Live

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