Somewhere in England
Chris Abbott | 12 Oct 2016 15:38pm
With a cast of 13 and a four-piece band, the performers onstage at New Wimbledon Studio for this musical exceeded the number sometimes to be seen on the main stage. It has to be said that the venue was not seen at its best on this occasion, with the audience left outside locked doors till around 20 mins before the performance, and chairs and tables stacked in the bar making for a less than inviting ambience. Somewhere in England was originally written for leading amateur group Questors Theatre in Ealing, and was being revived almost thirty years later with two original cast members involved: Tony Barber as the Vicar and Sheila Daniels, now promoted from Land Girl to Producer and Director.
Although Daniels describes her production as being pared down (paired down in the programme, which needed proof-reading), this was still a large professional cast for such a small venue. It was pleasing, therefore, to see that the house was full and it sounded as though bookings are good for the rest of the week. The production was appropriately simple, the mostly bare stage leaving room for some energetic choreography (Madeline Eaton-Belton) even in such confined spaces (though a number like Funny Old You seemed to call out for tap).
Musical Director Jon Spanyol led a four-piece onstage band, and it was good to hear once again the unmistakable sound of piano, bass and drum (mostly brushes) which was once so familiar to many theatregoers. Jean Caleb’s book told a clear story, if ending a little abruptly and sometimes hovering perilously near to caricature in the some of the smaller parts. Gordon Caleb’s music and lyrics were always easy on the ear, and at their strongest when presenting the small irritations of everyday life and love rather than the bigger themes of wartime sacrifice, and very much in the mould of Sandy Wilson or Noel Coward.
This was the kind of musical often attempted by amateurs but which can be very difficult to put over successfully, issues of tone and nuance being all-important. On this occasion, a top-notch cast picked up the material and ran with it, getting every ounce of value out of each line, plot development and number. There were no weak links even in the smaller roles, with Derek Elwood puce with indignation as a self-appointed guardian of morals whilst lusting secretly for his accomplice in arms, played by a shamelessly mugging Annie Aldington, both of these expert performers giving the audience no respite in their determination to get us on side.
As two more mature members of the village community, Olivia Maffett was a reliable stalwart and sang beautifully when allowed to, and Patsy Blower, with rather more in the way of opportunities, created a fully rounded character in addition to singing and dancing with the best of them (and offering a class in how to sell a song with Growing Up). As the Land Girls and women of the village, Kluane Saunders was quietly effective as Phyllis, Hannah Ponting rather more extrovert, appropriately, as the outgoing Eva and, most impressively, Stephanie de Whalley was totally successful as the repressed Marjorie. It was clear from her first appearance that Marjorie would find love despite her hesitant demeanour, and her appearance in tied back hair and glasses suggested that both would be lost before the end of the evening. It is a mark of the occasional originality of the production that this all too obvious development did not take place.
The younger male performers, some of them recently trained, convinced entirely as a group of only occasionally camp GIs led by Matt Fullbright as the Corporal, apparently the only real American in the cast though all the accents convinced, and Fed Zanni as the muscular Sergeant. Most of the opportunities, though, were given to the trio of Privates. Sam Landon as Chuck looked every inch the GI, as did his colleagues the handsome and debonair – and beautifully sung – Joe from Ryan Ferrie and, in what was for me the performance of the night, the effervescent and energetic Aaron Jenson, whose portrayal of Elmer was capable of generating amusement, empathy and real feeling among the audience. He is also an excellent dancer and it would have been good to have seen him given a full-blown tap number rather than a rather tentative move in that direction during his big number I Get the Run-Around, which called out for a dance break.
Whether the show has a future in today’s very different world remains to be seen; although excellent of its type it seemed to be rooted in the performance styles of the 1960s rather than the 1980s, and would be a difficult show to get right with anything but a cast of this calibre. Sheila Daniels should be justly proud, however, of her work and of bringing back to life a production from the past.
- : admin
- : 11/10/2016