Sweet Charity (Petersfield Theatre Group)
Thursday, May 24 2018
Petersfield Theatre Group is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and in the forward to the programme, chairman Mark Perry explains that producing amateur theatre is becoming very challenging. Costs of hiring the theatre are rising, yet audiences are smaller. What to do? Stick to the tried and tested? Or try something a bit different?
Sweet Charity isn’t your usual romantic musical – it’s pretty dark, without the typical happy ending. The main character is a taxi-dancer in a seedy club. It’s set in the sixties, where ideas of free love come up against the stark reality that men, however nice they seem to be, can still have shocking double standards when it comes to expectations of women’s sexuality. Charity is an innocent – she’s trusting, good-hearted, childlike, and as a result, taken advantage of.
An unusual and simple set greeted us – almost in the round, played on the floor of the hall. This is very new for the Festival Hall. It worked well for the most part, and having the band right at the back meant we could hear the singers more clearly. I would also say that if you’re going to perform in the round you need to play to the people at the sides as well as in front. We got a lot of views of people’s backs and some cast were masking others. It’s a tricky thing to do. I liked it though.
Newcomer to the group Heidi Hodgkinson captured the sweet, open, childlike nature of Charity and can sing well, although I think she struggled with the dancing (the tight dress and ill-fitting shoes didn’t seem to help there).
As her fellow dancers and friends, Emma Lumb and Emily McCubbin (also choreographer) were very strong – some excellent performances from both, with soaring voices in their duet.
Another stand out for me was newcomer to PTG, Tony Johnson as Oscar – the ‘stuck in the elevator’ scene was wonderful – his contortions and rising hysteria were hilarious. Through all his scenes, his every changing emotion could be read. A sudden burst of frustration and anger had us all suddenly sitting up in our seats. This man can act!
Meanwhile, the ensemble numbers, as is always the case with PTG, were great. The voices together are a powerful thing.
Some parts jarred a bit. The weird all-in-white nightclub scene with the Austen Powers style sixties dancing was a bit odd and there were a few too many dances, but it was certainly memorable! The Rhythm of Life scene, with Geoff Wootton as the long-haired, fringed-jacket-wearing hippy preacher Daddy, slightly missed the mark. It should be trippy and frenetic, a seething mass of bodies, but partly because of the, ahem, advancing age of many of the cast, it seemed a little bit comical instead.
I do feel the show lacked the dark edge it needed. The comedy was fully realised, but everyone was very nice, and I didn’t get the sense of seediness and the mean streets, to provide the contrast to and the unlikely backdrop for Charity’s cheery little personality. It often felt as if people were saying the lines just to get to the next song, where they felt more secure.
That said, it was a really entertaining show, the costumes were outstanding, and the audience definitely enjoyed it. Well done to director Mark Perry for the vision. It must have been great fun to do.