Paul Johnson | 24 May 2013 06:43am
‘The Matchgirls’ Strike The Right Notes
The all-singing, all-dancing cast of Blackmore Players wowed the sell-out audience at their latest production ‘The Matchgirls’, directed by Bill Edwards. With book and lyrics by Bill Owen (Compo in Last of The Summer Wine) and music by Tony Russell it tells the story of the East End women employed to make matches by Bryant and May, who went on strike to improve pay and conditions at the factory at the end of the last century. ‘The Matchgirls’ isn’t as well-known or performed as often as other musicals, however, after watching Blackmore Players bring the story to life in such an entertaining way it should be! The musical focuses on the lifestyle of the match cutters at the Bryant and May factory, with strong references to the condition Phossy Jaw (referred to in the opening song ‘Phospherous’) and the political climate of the era. The musical portrays Bryant and May as callous and uncaring employers, with factory foreman ‘Mr Mynel’ representing the threatening and imposing regime in which the girls were forced to work. The central character of the musical is ‘Kate’, a tenement girl and factory worker, who writes to Annie Besant to ask for help in seeking reform at the factory. The story follows Kate and Annie’s attempts to rally the girls, leading Kate to become a reckless strike-leader and a key player in the creation and recognition of the union. The sub plot shows Kate’s involvement in the strike and the strain it puts on her relationship with her docker boyfriend Joe. As well as ‘Cockney Sparrers’ and ‘Look At That Hat’ here were plenty of rousing songs as we were transported back to Victorian London and Blackmore Players turned in some wonderful performances and first rate choreography. These were complimented by the authentic costumes which added to the gritty realism of the era, and a very cleverly, if somewhat different, designed set. Moving away from the usual audience seating in rows facing the stage, director Bill Edwards set the production on the floor of the hall as well as the stage. With ‘stone steps’ leading down from the centre of the stage onto a ‘cobbled’ runway, he created an acting area amidst the audience with some seating in the round. Despite the mutterings from a couple of people in the audience that they couldn’t see all of the action, this staging worked extremely well in drawing the audience into the action and was a lively topic of conversation during the interval.
Although at its heart ‘The Matchgirls’ is very much an ensemble piece, there were some excellent performances from the principals. Debbie Stevens proved herself to be a very talented actress – she was outstanding as spirited strike leader Kate, singing beautifully with clarity and confidence. She conveyed a wide range of emotions throughout as she struggled with her loyalties to her fellow workers and her docker boyfriend Joe, a strong performance from Jason Markham. Markham showed Joe’s aggressive nature in his exchanges with reformer Annie Besant (played well by Gail Hughes) and a much softer, albeit macho side in his exchanges with Kate. I particularly enjoyed Kate and Joe’s duet ‘Something About You’, also sung by soon to be married Winnie (Amy Pudney) and Bert (Rhys Burrell) – fine performances from this pair as well. Glenys Young was excellent as the no-nonsense Mrs Purkiss, maintaining order amongst the matchgirls where necessary yet showing her vulnerability when her daughter Winnie loses the baby. Linda Raymond displayed great comic timing and was an absolute delight in the role of Old Min. Sandra Trott was convincing in the role of Jessie who challenges Kate over the strike and for the affections of Joe, resulting in a very realistic cat fight that starts on the hall floor before moving onto and up the steps before spilling out onto the stage. Jenny Pavitt as young Louie did very well, with other noteworthy performances from Martin Herford as Irish intellectual George Bernard Shaw, Lisa Rawlings as Polly, Simon Haskell as foreman Mynal and Keith Goody as the religious Mr Potter. There was some impressive choreography from Denise Jackson – with matchgirls and dockers rising to the occasion, especially in songs like ‘La Di Da’. Musical Director Shirley Parrot and her musicians did a great job considering their distance from the stage. The music worked well with the best being drawn from the performers’ voices, ‘This Life of Mine’, ‘Waiting’ and ‘Men’ worked extremely well. Technically the show was good with suitable lighting and balanced sound. The set design team did a fantastic job in creating the aptly named Hope Court, a Victorian tenement where some of the action took place. Director Bill Edwards did an excellent job co-ordinating his well-cast team of performers. Thanks to the inspired staging and hall layout he was able to make clever use of space with entrances through the auditorium – in particular the striking women marching and chanting – which engaged with the audience and was very effective. His vision with regard to the staging of it and his belief in the story of The Matchgirls, was conveyed to his talented cast and they delivered. This was a fantastic show – congratulations to everybody involved.
- : admin
- : 17/05/2013