Book: Neil Simon. Music: Cy Coleman. Lyrics: Dorothy Fields. Based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli & Ennio Plaiano. Conceived, Staged & Choreographed by Bob Fosse.
performance date: 03 Dec 2014
venue: Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, London NW8 8EH
reviewer/s: Caroline Jenner (Sardines review)
The Cockpit Theatre just off Lisson Grove is the venue for Sweet Charity by GEOIDS Musical Theatre Company. This 1966 show based on the book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, was particularly memorable for the innovative choreography of Bob Fosse, whose inventive and original style won him eight Tony awards and this was something that GEOIDS had tried to engage with and reflect in their production.
Courtyard-style theatre with a thrust stage will always present a challenge to a director and/or choreographer, as ensuring that all the audience has clear sightlines of central characters at key moments is essential, sadly with the choreography this was not always as successful as I would have liked. Honor Roche had certainly captured the ‘Fosse style’ in her larger ensemble pieces, which showed a great deal of ingenuity. Rich Man’s Frug was both sharp and beautifully characterised, whilst The Rhythm of Life stood out as being particularly engaging in its inventive use of the space, continually turning the dance around and providing a pleasing variety of levels. Despite the length and complexity of the routines, they remained polished and sophisticated. Understandably, given the size of the company, it wasn’t perfect, but it was nevertheless very impressive; a dazzling, highly individual, exhibition of movement and characterisation.
Disappointing was the fact that from my seat, far end of the row stage left, I had a brilliant view of Charlotte Welch as Charity and William Moss as Oscar, putting in a fantastic performance in the middle of the dancers; something which unfortunately would have been invisible to perhaps 60% of the audience. Regrettably also the smaller numbers, particularly with Nathalie Joel-Smith as Nickie and Siobhan Aarons as Helene tended to be focused to the front and became a little boring, probably not for those end on, but certainly for me sitting at the side.
Staged in a minimal fashion, with small set pieces created using a few chairs, tables and the odd sofa, worked extremely well in this particular venue, as it left plenty of floor space for the bigger dance numbers, whilst clearly creating elevators, diners and bedrooms. Beth Morris is to be congratulated on this and the costumes, which glitzy and ever changing, made the scenes upbeat and vibrant, whilst at the same time authentically establishing the period.
Under the musical direction of Kieran Stallard and the conducting of Dom O’Hanlon, the seven piece band were perched precariously on a dance hall style balcony above the auditorium. Although a little shaky on occasion they played with great gusto, sometimes perhaps a little too much gusto, unfortunately drowning out some of the quieter moments. Again this was partly due to the nature of the staging as my seat was diagonally facing the band whilst often the performer had their back to me.
Many amateur musical theatre companies suffer from having great singers who cannot act or great actors who cannot sing. For the role of Charity Hope Valentine it is essential that the actress can sing, dance and act if she is to truly represent the slightly kooky, innocent charm of the character. Charlotte Welch brought out the essential purity of the Fandango Ballroom dancer, showing moments of guileless vulnerability alongside an indefatigable belief that Mr Right is just around the corner. She clearly defined for us Charity’s infectious optimism, making her performance an extremely enjoyable one to watch.
The women at the dance hall where Charity dances were all carefully created as individuals who laugh, complain, and celebrate together. Nathalie Joel-Smith and Siobhan Aarons, as Nickie and Helene, are the two characters who we meet the most often, as they dream longingly for a secretarial life which will take them out of the seedy dance hall. For both of them their vocal performances were slightly tentative, although growing stronger as the performance progressed, despite this their portrayal of the characters was sensitive and showed them as practical and down to earth characters, contrasting with the overly optimistic charity.
Antonello Caboni’s Vittorio was a memorable characterization of the smooth movie idol. Suavely attractive he convinced us of his self-obsession, although his voice let him down slightly on some of the vocal arrangements for Too Many Tomorrows. Whilst Kris Webb as Daddy Brubeck was a charismatic leader of the Rhythm of Life Church whose congregation is full of psychedelic, zany individuals. Some entertaining audience interaction as we were blessed and dressed in his scarf helped to create this extremely engaging character.
However, for me it was William Moss’s portrayal of Oscar Lindquist that stole the show. From the moment he began panicking in the elevator to the final scene when he walked away he had me convinced. His constant fidgety hand movements and smoothing down of his clothes, clearly showed us the obsessive, compulsive nature of his personality. Timing in the diner scene and when he and Charity are trapped on a ferris wheel was perfect, delivering the lines with a comic pathos which had us sympathising with him whilst wanting to shout out that Charity was the best thing that could happen to him! Understated but brilliant he had Oscar’s neurosis absolutely nailed.
The show was long, at almost three hours, but director Richard Gambles had given opportunities for individuals to deliver unique and amusing characterisations, from minor named characters such as Herman or Ursula to the unnamed police officers and bystander, making the play a richer experience for the audience. ‘Sweet Charity’ is certainly an ambitious production to undertake as so many of the characters have been burned into our memory from the film, however, GEOIDS have succeeded in producing an entertaining and professional performance that is well worth a visit.