If Lord Lucan had really wanted an ideal hiding place on the wintry night he fled his house in 1974, he may have done worse than retreat to Network theatre, a hard to find theatre tucked away out of sight improbably underneath Waterloo Station.
The theatre itself is a charming venue, a small auditorium with raked seating for around 100 people, and proved an agreeable setting for GEOIDS musical theatre production of a relatively little known musical - She Loves Me.
People of a certain age will possibly remember the title song as a hit record in and around 1963, from when the musical dates - whilst the piece is replete with musical numbers, it is fair to say that most do not stay in the memory, although this does not detract from its appeal if that is not too much of a paradox. Many people are involved in the conception, creation and development of this musical - Joe Masteroff wrote the book, Jerry Rock the music, the artful and clever lyrics by Sheldon Harnick - whilst the book in turn was based on a play by Mikka Laszlo. Finally, the original Broadway production was brought to life by the estimable and legendary Hal Prince.
The Hungarian name of the original playwright - Mikka Laszlo - gives a clue to the setting; a high class parfumerie in Eastern Europe - perhaps Budapest although never actually stated - in the inter-war period. Here we have a somewhat insular world of job status assuming high levels of importance allied to customer service and reflecting in individual sales figures for the competitive sales clerks, tending to the well-heeled visitors entering daily through the doors.
This esoteric setting provides the backdrop for a narrative for a narrative of desire, the search for love, infidelity, ambition, all punctuated by musical numbers - 17 in all!
GEOIDS presented the play in an engaging and believable fashion with deft performances, good creation of atmosphere and mood, fine singing voices and taking pride of place some delightful choreography.
The director Daniel Paul may be said to have been restricted by the confines of the somewhat stark set in creating the environ of such an establishment as the parfumerie. One imagines a veritable warren and fairytale like setting of twinkling lights, jars, bottles, enticing displays and pleasing decor to attract the customers in a competitive field. None of this was possible in the staging - several changes of scene as necessary obviated against such a possibility and the believability factor had to be created by the actors -maybe thus diminishing a little the watching experience!
Act 1 starts with a spirited ensemble piece involving the clerks of the parfumerie, introducing us to the individuals.
Alan Scobbie as Lipos effects a cleverly designed persona as a disingenuous and disarming man, complete with heavily enunciated and precise diction to convey the decent but perhaps limited clerk, and Alan's projection is the perfect foil to the smooth cunning and sophistication of Kodaly played by Leon Hernandez. Lipos is the friend and confidant of George who is played somewhat blandly by Dom O'Hanlon-George is in correspondence with an unknown possible love partner and this situation underscores the whole play.
Enter the store owner Maraczec - a charismatic performance by Richard Gambles whose physical stature was perfect for the part as he gave an illustration of a stern authoritarian ruling his shop and staff with brisk no nonsense efficiency. Richard essayed a fine solo number 'Days Gone By' early on in his appearance.
With the closure of a rival parfumerie in the area arises a situation in which a staff member from that establishment comes seeking employment, at which stage we see the leading lady Amalia played by Nichola Welsh.
Nichola's depth of stage experience is clearly displayed in her vivid and bright eyed portrayal of the girl - indeed she is the unknown potential love partner of George unbeknown to both at this stage and she reveals her vulnerability, longing and wish to find romance with skill and acumen.
I thought the production could have been more fluid in the depiction of the undulating relationship between Amalia and George: one did not get a convincing sense of animosity on the part of George in respect of the arrival of Amelia. Subsequently the discovery of each other's identity could have benefitted from more dramatic punch and exuberance. It seemed to me that more fun could have been had with the unfolding of identities, this was rather thrown away at the end of the play.
George invested some urgency into the song heralding their pending meeting - Tonight At Eight - surely influenced lyrically by Tonight from West Side Story?! Whilst Sipos' reflective home spun philosophy on life in 'Perspective'was neatly delivered.
However the musical highlights for me were the numbers featuring Kathryn Hyde who played the sales clerk Ilona - well staged and choreographed, giving Kathryn the opportunity to demonstrate a polished awareness and fine stage presence. Her second song 'A Trip To The Library' gave the ensemble a chance to display some good looking choreography, also shown to good effect in the restaurant scene at the end of Act One - 'A Romantic Atmosphere' led by Blake Klein.
Blake trod delicately the fine line between bravura performance and teetering over the top with potentially excess mannerisms and actions. He managed to stay on the right side! Being clearly versatile and with a lively commanding presence on stage, his appearances livened up proceedings considerably.
The second act contained a further outstanding piece of choreography, this time ever more intricate involving re-appearances and opening and closing doors in the number Twelve Days Of Christmas. Very well done to Debbie Day the choreographer.
Leon Hernandez as the charlatan and bad guy Kodaly was a good stage presence but fell a little between two stools in seeking to portray a mixture of charm and evil - and I would like to think that his songs as essayed were actually meant to be a little on the flat side!
Chris Hughes Copping as the delivery boy who gets elevated to sales clerk was beguiling - I thought he could have shown a little more gaucheness and immaturity earlier to fully ciontrast with his step up in status later on - not quite enough shade and light.
Solid support was given by Jude Perkins and Sebastian Douma in dual roles, along with good non-verbal acting and movement as required by Annalisa Checchi, Co-Producer, also Orna Mcdonald and Sam Partridge.
Lastly creditable mentions for the splendid band led by and featuring Kieran Stallard, along with Sarah Burrell, Rachel Monaghan, Adam Williams and Emma Plant.
All in all a very good production - congratulations to all concerned!