PTG try something different – Sweet

REVIEW

Sweet Charity (Petersfield Theatre Group)

Festival Hall

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.

Kat Wootton

Darling Buds was perfick for Winton Players

REVIEW

The Darling Buds of May (Winton Players)

Festival Hall, Petersfield

Friday, May 13

It was bound to be a surefire hit: a gentle comedy with loveable characters, in a countryside setting of hay barns, gymkhanas, bluebells, strawberries and warm beer.

Many people remember the television version with David Jason as Pop Larkin, the wheeling dealing happy family man; a larger than life character who finds the good in everything and everyone, giving the tweedy village ladies a quick thrill and a cheeky cocktail, and shaking his head in wonder at the toffs and their daftness.

Simon Stanley did a very good interpretation of the character while Sarah Dove made a lovely, warm, Ma Larkin (making an entire pie and knitting during scenes didn’t faze her at all) – good casting there.

The younger children were all great – well done Nikolai Gibbons, Jacy Martin, Libby Bridges, Faith Parker and Alisha Jenkins – they all looked very natural onstage.

Sarah Melville as Marietta and Lawrence Cook as Mr Charlton (showing a nice bit of comedy drunkenness) made a good couple.

The rest are caricatures but great fun to play. Sue Port had em rolling in the aisles as tweedy Miss Pilchester getting all weak at the knees for a Pop snog, while Roamy Terry had enormous fun as Angela Snow, the toff with a twinkle in her eye, Phill Humphries as the Brigadier and John Edwards as Sir George Bluff-Gore didn’t overplay their characters, while Joff Lacey, Julie Blackwell and Amy Perkins were obviously enjoying themselves.

The set was outstanding, conjuring up a warm summer’s afternoon with rolling fields in the distance and a tree shaded table in the garden, leading to a cosy kitchen. Perfick.

Kat Wootton

We kept the Faith

Faith – The George Michael Legacy

G-Live

Wednesday, May 9 2018

George Michael fans were thrilled as tribute act Wayne Dilk’s and his talented eight-piece band brought George’s legendary music to life at G-Live. The theatre was jam-packed with a lively audience visibly excited to relive their youth and be part of a musical journey of 35 years of hit records.

There was no mistaking who Wayne was trying to impersonate as he entered the stage in George’s signature dark glasses and bouffant hair. The crowd went berserk and were up on their feet instantly to ‘I’m Your Man’. There was a clear similarity in Wayne’s voice but as he rightly said: “There is only one George Michael”. His fast-paced energy lasted throughout the whole show covering classics such as ‘Club Tropicana’ and ‘Fast Love’. He maintained fantastic interaction with the crowd who never stopped dancing and singing along.

However, the best singing came in the slow tracks with a wonderful rendition of ‘Father Figure’ and of course ‘Careless Whisper’ to finish up.

Wayne is a self-confessed super fan himself and was clearly honoured to impersonate his role model as his career. He shared the history of George and his music including where certain songs were written and where the inspiration came from. Videos played throughout the show on the screen behind the stage, some of which were quite random but whenever footage of George came up the crowd went wild.

Fantastic entertainment from a superb tribute act which made hundreds of people very happy and celebrated George Michael’s legacy expertly.

Alex Ashbee

Treasure chest of talent graces the Minerva Theatre

REVIEW

Double bill: random and generations (by debbie tucker green)

Minerva Theatre, Chichester

A wealth of theatrical talent, probably unknown to most theatregoers in the south-east, graces the Minerva Theatre until June 2. Chichester Festival Theatre deserves great credit for choosing random and generations, two one-act plays written by debbie tucker green, an Oliver-award winning playwright, who also acts and writes screenplays.

She adapted random into a Channel 4 screen version, which won the 2012 BAFTA award for Best Single Drama. Her work is familiar to audiences at the Royal Court, the Young Vic and the National Theatre, And second coming, her follow-up feature film, won an award in Rotterdam and was BAFTA nominated.

Petra Letang, the star of random, has appeared at the Young Vic, the National Theatre and on Broadway. And she gives a searing solo performance with wit, wisdom and pathos as the oldest daughter in the day in the life of a household, which starts mundanely but ends in tragedy. Amusing take-offs of her parents, her teenage brother and her workmates turn to despair when the family is brought to its knees by a random act of violence. Never trouble trouble til trouble trouble you’ is a memorable line doomed to haunt the storyTerrific.

The first play in the double bill, generations, concerns a South African family, where Mama and Dad, Grandad and Nana, Boyfriend and Girlfriend, and Junior Sister discuss family cooking skills. Characters disappear in turn, starting with the youngest, as the dialogue is refrained in a subtle circular fashion, ripe with nuances.

Cleo Sylvestre (Nana) has also played Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks and Jospehine Baker, and appeared at the NT and in the West End. As a schoolgirl she made a record with the unknown Rolling Stones, and still performs regularly with her blues band, Honey B Mama and Friends. Also watch out for Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, who made her debut as Girlfriend, Lauretta Essien (Mama) and Derek Ezenagu (Dad).

The director Tinuke Craig, on her Chichester debut, won the 2014 Genesis Future Director Award, and her credits have included debbie tucker green’s dirty butterfly at the Young Vic. The performance is superbly supported by the South African Cultural Choir, who lit up the Minerva with their capella singing and rhythmic Zulu dancing.

www.cft.org.uk

Nick Keith

CFT’s Coward classic bound to take Hound to the West End

The inestimable Noel Coward is a safe choice for CFT to launch their 2018 programme. However, this production, directed by Sean Foley, has veered away from traditional roots of suave sophistication and smooth style, and chosen to go down a slapstick farcical route. This has been well trodden, or rather stumbled over, by the star of this Present Laughter, Rufus Hound.

This well-known comic actor and stand-up comedian gained true public recognition when he followed James Corden in One Man, Two Guv’nors (about to be performed in an amateur production in Petersfield) on tour and at the National Theatre. In build, demeanour and style, Hound is no Noel. At first that was disconcerting, but the manic mood of farce and quick wit soon prevailed, driving away all memories of mannered mischief, while retaining Coward’s clean dialogue and sharp dramatic lines.

Photos by: Johan Persson 

The programme has kindly pointed out that Essendine is an anagram for Neediness, and that becomes all-apparent in Garry’s dealings with the constant stream of admirers and hangers-on, who are bound to hound many stars. Written in 1939 but delayed for three years because of the War, Present Laughter hangs loose on morals, with women keen to get Garry into bed. And the dress code for the evening involves mainly silk dressing gowns, another of Coward’s personal hallmarks.

The first seductress is young Daphne Stillington (Lizzy Connolly) who is eager to further her career on the stage, and in Essendine’s bed, having met Garry at a recent party. She appears one morning from a bedroom at the top of the stairs in a silk dressing gown, claiming she had to spend the night in the star’s home because she did not have her house keys.

From then on, doors open and close at rapid intervals, ushering people in and out of sight of one another.

A constant source of calm is provided by his ex-wife Liz Essendine (Katherine Kingsley), the only character who knows exactly what she is doing and what Garry wants, and needs. Another character who remains almost in charge of an ever-changing situation is Monica (Tracy-Ann Oberman), his secretary of many years, who has control of his diary – and most of his movements.

Into the giddy mix add his comic in-house staff, Fred (Delroy Atkinson) and Miss Erikson (Tamsin Griffin), who is ageing awkwardly; would-be playwright Roland Maule (Ben Allen); Garry’s theatrical promoters, Henry Lyppiatt and Morris Dixon  (Richard Mylan and Emilio Doorgasingh); and a gorgeous temptress Joanna Lyppiatt (Lucy Briggs-Owen) who is married to Henry but seems to have bedded all and sundry.

Naturally, Coward is not content with pure physical farce, and the play is leavened with witty lines and real pathos as several of the characters reveal their frailties to Garry and their friends and colleagues. The whole performance works sublimely well in a great set (designed by Alice Power), with excellent timing for both the dialogue and the pratfalls. It will be a big surprise if this production does not end up in the West End, so get to see Present Laughter before it leaves Chichester on May 12.

www.cft.org.uk

Nick Keith