11 – 16 May 2015
Stage Director – Barry Austin
Musical Director – Rachel Howgego
Reno Sweeney – Rachel Wright
Billy Crocker – Jon Baron
Hope Harcourt – Grace Hawker
Moonface Martin- Andy Richardson
Lord Evelyn Oakleigh – David Emms
Erma – Beth Cox
Elisha Whitney – Iain Hicken
Mrs Harcourt – Kate Crow
Captain – Chris Roberts
Fred/Purser – Geoff Cox
Henry T Dobson – Peter Bartlett
John – Mike Viret
Luke – Joseph Annetts
Girl in Bar – Bryony Smith
Angels – Rachael Bartlett, Molly Skuse, Natasha Webb
Chrissie Carling, Helen Colledge, Richard Coole, Cat Edmond, Mike Ide, Selwyn Morgan, Tom Mullins, Belinda Ogle-Skan, Sue Roffe, Liz Souter, Karen Spriggs.
The Company had decided to perform the 1987 version of the show, which has Erma and not Bonnie as the girl friend of Moonface Martin, having performed the 1962 version 13 years ago. I was interested to see it as previously I had only seen the 1962 version, and there are several differences.
As you entered the Theatre you were greeted by a stark white set, which was unmistakably on board a ship, although it would have been nice to see the name of the ship somewhere. It had been built on three levels, which extended the full width of the stage, with ‘ships’ rails at the edge of the two upper levels, with circular holes depicting portholes. There were staircases linking the levels and two practical doors on the higher level. Furniture was taken on and off on the lowest level when required to represent the various venues on board, such as the cabins and ‘lock up’. I thought it worked extremely well, although owing to the small stage, space was a bit restricted for the dance numbers, but Beth Cox, Natasha Webb and Rachel Wright had devised careful choreography, which utilised the varying levels. This combined with a great deal of energy meant nothing was lost.
The ‘cabin’ areas were set on either side of the stage and had no doors to them. The knocks on the doors were cleverly handled through well synchronised miming and ’knocks’ from the percussionist. Due to the way it had been staged the auditorium was use for several entrances and exits, which worked well, apart from a lack of carpet on the floor to deaden the sound of noisy feet, which drowned out some of the dialogue. I imagine lighting this production could have been a challenge with the starkness and height of the set, but it had been well designed to give intimate atmosphere to the individual scenes and whole stage lighting for whole cast numbers. There was a good sound balance with no crackling microphones, always well operated and all the sound effects were well cued. The costumes and hairstyles were of the period all looking suitably expensive, and the sailors very smart.
Director Barry Austin must have been pleased with his cast there were some strong performances, with everyone working as a team, which all contributed to the success of the show. There are a few individual performances I would like to mention. Rachel Wright gave a relaxed performance as Reno, the Evangelist turned nightclub singer, was a woman of the world unexpectedly smitten by love, she sang and danced her way through with flare. Grace Hawker, as Hope Harcourt, was a gentler character who was torn between love and duty, she moved and sang well. Jon Baron played Billy Crocker with confidence, coping with the singing, dancing and various disguises, while trying to keep out of the way of all who were trying to catch
him. Kate Crowe brought a domineering, social climbing Mrs Harcourt to life and had trained
her dog well. Lord Evelyn Oakleigh was epitomised by David Emms as an upper class twit, his rendition of The Gypsy In Me was a delight. Andrew Richardson gave a memorable performance as Moonface Martin with
his comic timing and ‘Be Like The Blue Bird’. Beth Cox as Erma was a sexy young lady with attitude; I loved ‘Buddy Beware’. Also Chrissie Carling took great delight in the cameo role of the wheelchair bound gin-swigging passenger! Everyone, both principals and chorus, had developed individual characters and worked as a team supporting each other. The way the show had been staged enabled the action to continue seamlessly, so keeping the story and the pace moving. There were a few weak points, I was a bit confused at the opening of show as it looked as though Elisha Whiney was on board ship waiting for his assistant to bring some items he needs for his trip to England, and I am afraid I could not hear the dialogue to give me a clue as to events. Also the passenger reaction to the revelation that a notorious criminal was on board was pretty tame.
The cast obviously enjoyed singing the wonderful music of Cole Porter and produced lovely solos and harmonies under baton of Musical Director Rachel Howgego. The orchestra were always well controlled and sympathetic to the singers, keeping the volume down while people were speaking and singing, then giving full rein in the dance routines, which helped create high-energy numbers. I really enjoyed the music.
Barry Austin had made excellent use of the set with lovely groupings particularly at the beginning and end of Act 2. This was a good all round production with everyone working together to achieve a high level of entertainment. The audience the evening I was there certainly enjoyed the show and left the Theatre smiling and humming the tunes.