You can tell that the director and all who work with her (Charlotte Westenra) have real confidence in their show when they allow you – unusually these days - to listen to the overture, played magnificently here by an 11-piece band under MD Nathan Jarvis, without cluttering it up with superimposed visual effects. And that confidence is certainly justified.
This Sweet Charity – such a good choice for students because there are so many terrific cameo roles – fizzes with slick energy. And nothing is laboured. The lift scene which ends Act One and opens Act Two is simply and effectively depicted in a gap between the nearly closed curtains. Some cabaret-style audience seating at the front effortlessly evokes the Fandango Dance Hall.
At the centre of it all, of course, is the eponymous Charity, seedy dance hall hostess and probably part-time hooker, is feisty, rueful and “sweet”. And she’d desperately like a different, better life. May Tether, who alternates the role with Elsa-Grace Waterfield across the four performances, gives a stonking performance. She has a richly resonant singing voice, oodles of stage presence and is a very compelling naturalistic actor. Watch out for her. There were a number of agents present at the performance I saw. I should think they’re climbing over each other to sign her if one of them hasn’t already done so.
James Dodd (Chesney Fawkes-Porter at other performances) is suitably geeky as Oscar and he sings well. And Ejiro Richmond is splendid as Daddy – fluid of movement, evangelical in manner and very funny - in the deliciously cynical Rhythm of Life scene.
Steven Harris’s choreography and the outstanding ensemble work are, in many ways, what really drives this show and makes it shine. The Act 1 whole ensemble number in the dance hall is a high spot. The music is very percussive and every body movement – lots of neck work – mirrors it as sub groups within the ensemble respond to each other. It’s like visual music and very watchable. The Rhythm of Life choreography is excellent too as the cast wriggle and stretch like languorous waves.
This was my first visit, incidentally, to Blackheath Halls since the radical renovation of the Great Hall last year. It is now a very fine, spacious comfortable venue with raked seating, a big playing area and lots of tech. Hurrah.