East of Englandposted/updated: 29 Apr 2013 -
Ian Cook and Ian Newton
performance date: 23 Apr 2013
venue: Beccles Public Hall, Smallgate, Beccles NR34 9AD
reviewer/s: Cheryl Barrett (Independent review)
Top Marks For New Musical 'The Reunion'
Beccles Public Hall was transformed into a school for Waveney Light Opera Group's production, 'The Reunion'. Written by WLOG members Ian Cook and Ian Newton 'The Reunion' was offered as a replacement show for the spring following licensing difficulties with the planned show. 'The Reunion' is a story of unrequited love, honour and sacrifice, recollection and reminiscence, betrayal and forgivenesss, all played out against the backdrop of a school reunion.
As well as being the musical director and co-writing the musical Ian Newton, dressed as a lollipop man, also welcomed the audience into 'school'. Before the show, members of the cast in character as teachers and pupils mingled with the audience. Paper aeroplanes were thrown across the room and gum-chewing school girls and boys lounged around rebelliously in the back row smoking and chatting, thus setting the mood and drawing the audience into the action. Just before the show started they exited to return to the stage in the strong opening number, Waiting For The Bell To Ring.
Act One is set in the long hot Summer of 1976 and as the play continues we follow the pupils of 5D from Grangebourne Secondary Modern who are about to leave school and follow their dreams. Debbie, (Helen Roscoe) is destined for Cambridge University where she hopes to study medicine. Tom (Ian Cook) has just heard that his elder brother John has been accepted into the Royal Marines. Before 5D leave they have a visit from the careers officer to look forward to, and the leavers' disco on Friday night. On the eve of the disco Tom discovers that his brother has done something stupid whilst out celebrating, something that could seriously jeopardise his future. Tom decides to take the rap and save his brother, little knowing that his actions could have serious repercussions. Everyone knows Tom and Debbie should be together - except them. Will they finally realise at the leavers' disco or will fate step in and spoil it all? Should Tom lie to save his brother and risk losing the girl he loves? Act Two see the action take place 23 years later during the long dark Winter of 1999. It opens as some of the ex-pupils gather for the funeral of their old form teacher. There's talk of a school re-union. How many of the old gang followed their dreams? What has happened to Tom and Debbie in the intervening years and can they be found? Will they finally get the dance they have waited over 20 years for?
Helen Roscoe played the part of Debbie beautifully. Her shyness at approaching Tom was believable and there were some lovely moments between Debbie and Tom. Ian Cook took the role of nice guy Tom and gave a fine performance with good vocals throughout. Sarah Cook played the part of spirited and flirty Susan Pye to perfection conveying a softer side amidst the brashness. Clare Osborne delighted as their friend Laura, especially in the girls' bedroom scene when Laura, Debbie and Susan sing Mr Right. Tom's best friends were Dick and Harry (humour here in the naming of these characters) played by Andy Osborne and Bob Sharman respectively. Both men gave good solid performances and vocals. Debbie lambert stood out as the aptly named Miss Jolly with her infectious giggle that had the audience laughing, a lovely comic performance. I particularly enjoyed the song The Joys Of Baking - home economics was never like this at my school. Christine Mullord gave an outstanding and extremely moving performance as Debbie's mum Margaret - especially in the two hander scene when she finds the letter from Tom's brother.
There were some good cameo roles, particularly that of the cornet playing caretaker played by Mike Catling. Peter Simmen gave a good account as the careers teacher, who rips off his trousers to reveal fishnet clad legs complete with garter and goes into a high kicking dance routine. I loved the stereotypical moustachioed male PE teacher Mr Powell, played with the right amount of testosterone and smarmy charm by Jason Lambert. There were other fine performances from Tony Hardy as Tom's brother John Green who showed off his vocal skills in the moving Act two song Letters Home. Phillip Allum as Mr James and Sue Cushing as Miss Davies.
The excellent musical direction of Ian Newton and the 7 piece orchestra, made each and every scene come alive. There was a good range of songs with pop, jazz and gospel numbers, and as with any musical some more memorable than others, however all songs were brilliantly performed and the harmonies spot on. The school assembly number, We're Gathered Here was a lively number reminiscent of a hymn. Scene 3 saw the careers officer handing out advice. I loved the catchy song Next as careers officer Mr Grey (Peter Simmen) dismissed the pupils choice of career relishing in the pupils surname Littleworth. The moving song Letters Home was sung well by Tom, John and Debbie. My favourite song was Waiting Round The Corner which had a catchy tune and a few of us in the audience were singing along to in the reprise.
The cast were put through their paces by choreographer Jean Cator, with additional choreography by Sarah and Ian cook. There were some great company routines. The dancing nuns in the chip shop and the shopping trolley routine were well done as was the dog walkers' movements during the song You Can Always Trust An Animal. Costumes were very well thought out and suited the 1970s era perfectly in Act One. I loved the idea of having the PE teacher in white along with the white bobbed wigs and white netball outfits worn by the backing singers during the song Mr Right. Lighting was good as was the sound although the band seemed to overpower the vocals at the opening but soon rectified itself. The set was basic with good use of tables to distinguish between scenes at the school and changes to table furnishings and seating arrangements to denote Tom and Debbie's houses.I feel the programme design should get a mention as this was set out in the style of a school report with photos of the cast in their school days. The stage directors notes, school orchestra and production team headings were styled to represent shool bar-shaped badges. A lovely idea...
Director Ian Cook put so much into this production and should be suitably proud of this musical. He got the best from his talented cast - there were some wonderful comedy sketches, plenty of great dance routines, strong vocals and harmonies throughout. Ian and his co-director Jane Zarins made good use of the stage and surrounding areas.
Congratulations to the two Ians on a well scripted musical that delivered. It had the feel-good factor and the capacity audience loved it. The energy and commitment from the cast shone through. Well done WLOGs - merit marks all round!