It’s a Date 2020
Chris Abbott | 20 Feb 2020 13:24pm
Photos: James Jackson
Gang Shows have a long and distinguished history since 1932 of involving large numbers of young people, and they still flourish in many parts of the country. The Southend Scout and Guide Gang Show began in 1966 and now takes place every two years at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff, involving an enormous number of people onstage and behind the scenes.
Gang Shows were started in the era of song and dance, and largely followed the routines of the variety theatre with large scale numbers punctuated by comic songs or sketches: and that remains the format, although the music may have been updated as here. The other big change, of course was that originally gang shows were all male; that changed a long time ago and a show that features Scouts (boys and girls) as well as Guides is bound to reflect those changes.
The other development is the increasing role played by the younger members of the Gang – not now just given a token number or two but onstage for the whole evening. At their best, Gang Shows provide an opportunity for everyone involved to share the experience of performing in a large group and it was those numbers that showed off the Southend cast well. Among the highlights were a Stomp-style drumming routine on wheelie bins, a song about what is needed in a Gang Show (although, as in several other places, this would have been twice as effective at half the length), a pirate number which filled the stage with the whole cast, a James Bond dance number and of course the finale, which fully met the Gang Show traditions.
The hardworking cast were well rehearsed by the team led by Director – and Musical Director – Jo Brown. Either of those tasks in a Gang Show is a major undertaking so it is very impressive when one person fills both roles. With so many people involved, onstage and off, it is impossible to mention more than a few names – and in any case it is part of the philosophy of the Gang Show that everyone is part of the group. However there are two aspects of this show that must get a mention: costume and lighting. Costuming any Gang Show is a major undertaking with hundreds of changes, but all looked immaculate whether in the large group numbers or for example in the living chess set, and the team led by Jacky Goddard are to be congratulated. The lighting design by Rob Watson, too, lifted this show into another league: resisting the temptation to have the moving lights always on the go, but finding different ways to light the numbers and providing ever-changing stage pictures.
As with any show, there were a few areas where things didn’t go quite as well. The sketches, for example, were delivered with great commitment by the young cast but they needed a much funnier script to be successful. Finding the right sketch is, of course, an issue that has arisen at other Gang Shows as has the perennial problem of getting young people to smile – an issue nicely highlighted in the song in the first half. By the end of the first night, the cast enjoyment was beginning to show on their faces, and I am sure as the week goes on the smiles will emerge. And far better, by the way, to keep the show moving with 2 or 3 songs in a routine rather than all the verses and choruses of one…
It is always good to see young people on stage giving of their best and enjoying the experience of performing; that is the opportunity Gang Shows like the one at Southend have provided for many years and long may they continue to do so. Well done to cast, back stage and all who made the show possible.