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posted/updated: 10 Dec 2012 -
I Hate Musicals!
Ian Rae and Gee Rook
society/company: ATG Drama Group (directory)
performance date: 29 Nov 2012
venue: Warlingham Church Hall, Limpsfield Road, Warlingham, CR6 9LE
reviewer/s: Caroline Jenner (Sardines review)

Perhaps a Friday evening a fortnight before Christmas after quite a tiring week is not the best time to be walking into Warlingham Church Hall clutching a bottle of wine and realising that although you had been told that it was bring your own bottle you had not remembered that wine needs to be drunk out of something!! However, the friendly welcome given by those on the door, the free programme (always gratefully received by reviewers) and a quick trip to the shop next door for some paper cups saw me eagerly anticipating ATG's production of 'I Hate Musicals'. I have to admit I do not hate musicals, I rather enjoy them, and was looking forward to seeing the Poor Family from Purley battle it out against Count Dracula and Doctor Frankenstein with the help of Jonathan Harker and Dr Van Helsing.
All credit to the set design team who had transformed the church hall into a Transylvanian Bat Cave with creepy zombies making small children scream and larger adults jump as they silently glided around the audience pre show, appearing unexpectedly at your shoulder just as you were about to take a large swig of wine! The stage changed from Count Dracula's castle to a brightly coloured gypsy encampment through the clever use of swathes of fabric - whilst a sofa and lamp recreated a living room and some tombstones created a cemetery. Lighting was never obtrusive and the sound effects were suitable corny in a play that never took itself seriously and was played for laughs all the way.

The cast were both entertaining and enthusiastic. For the play to be a success they all needed to be prepared to ham it up as much as possible and they threw themselves in with gusto. The dour Scotsman Keith Harper playing an actor who hates musicals in the play 'I Hate Musicals' hatching a plan to pretend to a be a virgin, (confused? - you had to be there!) left me wondering if I had stepped into a play by Pirandello, whilst his star struck wife Ali Morris had us highly amused by her innocent adoration of the creepy Count Dracula. The curlers and head scarf had a look of Ena Sharples, but made her glamorous transformation in Act Two all the more surreal. Carolyn Screech as Virgina was an excellent 'goth' whilst Colin Sexton as Sextus Poor never quite seemed to know what was going on - hopefully that was intended!

Jeremy Mitchell as Dracula was perhaps almost too white, but certainly looked in need of a good transfusion whilst Fiona Robertson, Rowan Dixon, Micky Chowne and Mark Storey all turned in excellent performances as the fellow travellers who met up with the Poor family and helped them on their way. The chorus were versatile and constantly surprising us with their quick changes from the living dead to the people of Calais to gypsies. The costumes were superb with black cloaks, stripey jumpers and jangling beads and bangles making everything wonderfully stereotypical. Nicola Newman and Louise Nicholls did a fantastic job choreographing the large cast in some excellent dance numbers on a very small space. Congratulations also to Ian Rae, who as well as writing the script and music also played the keyboard brilliantly. However two cast members deserve special mention. Rick Morris as Frankenstein who delivered the terrible jokes with such great conviction and an amazingly straight face and Rebecca Morris, who acted her socks off throughout and made such a wonderfully irritating Annie.

However the glory of this piece was not the acting which, on occasion, was fairly average, nor the singing which was occasionally a little flat but the fact that the cast worked together with such commitment to deliver Ian Rae and Gee Rook's script with its ludicrous story full of ridiculous puns and one liners. The evening was a blast, a cast of people who were all having such a good time that they took the audience along with them and made us all leave smiling and tapping our feet. This may not have been the most polished of productions but I bought the CD and have been playing it in my car and I will definitely be looking out for ATGs next production 'Murder at the Manor' in March.

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