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Hens. The Caxton Players, Caxton Theatre, Grimsby. 05 June 2024.

Over 80 years ago, The Caxton Players was established as a touring company operating out of St Andrew's Church in Freeman Street. They were formed by members of staff from the Grimsby Telegraph, hence the name Caxton. They toured local RAF bases to lift the moral among those serving their King and Country, providing a diversion from the dangers posed by their real-life situation. The Caxton Players unique point of difference was that they performed new, original plays and the work was created by their own members. To see that over 80 years later, the Caxton Players are still taking risks and staging brand-new work warms my heart. Hens is a new farce written by Ben Parfrement Parkes and directed by Jane Stolworthy, it features many familiar faces and a few returning players that we have not seen in a while, along with one or two new arrivals.

The premise is simple, it is a farce set on a riotous hen night in a holiday lodge which goes wrong in more ways than you can even begin to imagine. To orchestrate the telling of such a tale, playwright Parfrement Parkes has to spin many plates and keep each one moving as another threatens to fall. He does so extremely well and audiences will definitely appreciate the way in which he manages to keep it light and frothy belying the challenge of the task. I was lucky enough to be invited to a dress rehearsal along with a small, select audience to allow the cast to feed of f the laughter and amusement for an audience seeing the work afresh, when the cast need them most after months of hard work to bring it to the stage. It is possible that jokes become stale for the cast, but not so for the audience.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away in the review, as spoilers do just what they say on the tin, they spoil the experience if you know what is coming in advance. Suffice to say, if you know farce then you will know what you are letting yourself in for. Lots of naughty gags and running around half-dressed and seemingly invisible to the rest of the cast.

And speaking of the cast, this one is great. Some standout performances within this piece.

Chloe Rose returns to the Caxton's stage as the monstrous Candice, the best friend of the bride and wedding planner from Hell. An Essex Girl who lives to flirt, party and drive everyone to drink. She dominates the stage orchestrating the chaos and trying desperately to keep secret after secret as the plot unravels. Chloe Rose is a revelation and those who know her personally will find it hilarious to see her playing so vehemently against type and doing it so well.

The Bride is Nicola Hunter, played by Prosper Jacklin, as a mousey, people pleaser desperate not to upset the apple cart and lose her job as a PA to the hideous monster that is Gillian Fox. Her wide-eyed innocence hides her contempt for the woman she so readily serves, who just happens to be the mother of her fiancé, Jamie.

Gillian Fox is a Right-wing Influencer whose manipulated reality for her thousands of followers is a terrific creation, played with relish by Helen Kent who previously performed as the MOST perfidious of right-wing influencers, Maggie Thatcher in Handbagged. Kent is superb and audiences ill find her performance a scene-stealer. Particularly when she plays off against the comic stylings of Byron Young as Uncle Roger.

Young too is superb playing the "flamboyant" Roger who is obliged to supress his natural personality in favour of one more acceptable to teh hens of the titular party. Again audiences will really enjoy watching teh twists and turns undertaken by Young's character in the play.

The would-be groom is Jamie, played by Sam Brierley who has also not been seen at the Caxton Theatre for a number of years. It is a thankless role in so many ways but fun nevertheless. Brierley spends most of the show in just his boxer shorts and is on stage for most of the show locked in a bedroom upstairs as the action develops downstairs and bring the chaos up to the tiny bedrooms in which he has to hide...

Then we have Alejandro, a male stripper played by newcomer Josh Watson who audiences may well have seen as a senior performer with Class Act in their recent performance of Pride and Prejudice. Unfortunately, at the rehearsal I saw, Watson was replaced by husband of the playwright, Joseph Parfrement Parkes due to illness. It was advised that he rest up for a couple of days before the show begins. Parfrement Parkes did a great job standing in, script in hand, to ensure that the show must go on and by appearing as Alejandro, he allowed rehearsals to continue to run smoothly as they prepare for the world premiere on Saturday.

Rounding out the cast were two party animals in Tracy and Lacy played by Bethany Ramsden and Lucy Tooze. They screechy, nasal voices pierce the air and their frantic ditziness will provide no end of giggles for the audience as they too add to the mayhem we witness during the show.

All in all, I salute the Caxton Players for continuing to champion original writing for the stage and am sure that audiences will experience a hen night like no other, so why not down a couple of glasses of Prosecco in advance, bring a couple of cheeky gins into the auditorium and get ready to be a part of the party. If only Grimsby had a Nando's for the after party...

Hens runs from 8 - 15 June at the Caxton Theatre and tickets are now at limited availability be quick to snap them up if you don't want to miss this raucous new comedy and don't forget to vlog about it and get i up on your socials!

Andy Evans 6 June 2024

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