The Mystery of St Finnigan's Elbow (Ipswich)

The Eastern Angles Christmas play has long been a theatrical seasonal staple in Ipswich; this year it continues in good form.

the cast.
the cast.
© Mike Kwasniak Photography 2014

As an intelligent alternative to a pantomime, this certainly delivers. This year the theatrical target for Julian Harries and Pat Whymark's attention are the school capers of St Trinian's and The Famous Five in The Mystery of St Finnigan's Elbow.

All the action takes place in the grounds of St Finnigan's school for girls (a Catholic establishment which holds the ancient relic of St Finnigan's Elbow,) where the Trumpington sisters have just arrived as pupils.

The script is certainly fairly tight and littered with knowing allusions to events in the 1930s and the 1940s as well as some modern day references; the names of the staff of the school includs Mr Cowell, Sister John Lewis and Sister Usain Bolt). However, this is a gentle romp.

Both the volume and velocity of the jokes is much slower than Eastern Angles' previous work such as Mansfield Park and Ride. Also, there are fewer regional references than in previous work and while this may lead to less delight for Ipswich audiences, this probably allows the piece to tour more easily and last beyond Christmas.

The cast is excellent and show great talent remaining dead-pan while dealing with a corpsing-inducing script. As in previous company performances, the ability of the five actors that make up the company of this performance to play over twenty characters is remarkable.

Particular credit must go to Joe Leat whose portrayal of Reverend Mother (the head of the convent/school) and transformation into Mr Facismile (Latin Master) is truly remarkable. Francesca Gosling and Alice Mottram as the Trumpington sisters have excellent comic timing and earnestness.

Greg Wagland is also a delight especially in his role as Lydia Bumole but he also plays an X-Factor inspired music master Mr Cowell and smile-inducing Cardinal Pecorino. In addition to strong acting, particular credit must go to those involved in set design and construction.

Eastern Angles have always worked well with the physical constraints of their compact home (the Sir John Mills Theatre), but this year, two platforms on the traverse stage almost give this small space a Tardis-like quality as we are speedily and dramatically taken to a variety of locations ranging from the grounds of the school to the coast near the school to the assembly hall.

All in all, this is a strong comedy which is the strange but effective marriage of Father Ted and St Trinian's. It's one which is worth seeing this Christmas.

The Mystery of St Finnigan's Elbow plays at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until 10 January and transfers to the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge between 13 and 24 January.