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Posts Tagged ‘Haydn Oakley’

So this month’s musicals concern immigration & racism in the early 20th century, men replaced by machines in the 20’s, revenge against a whale, refugees in Africa in the present day, living with cancer, two American sisters intent on showbiz success in the 50’s and this, conjoined twins in a freak show. Well, you can’t say musical theatre doesn’t provide variety.

This show by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger (whose Dreamgirls is about to get it’s long overdue London premiere) is apparently the true story of the Hilton sisters. We first meet them in a freak show, with a fortune teller, tattooed girl, bearded lady, half man half woman, lizard man, three legged man, dog boy and human pin cushion! The boss owns them; they aren’t paid. Talent scout Terry and his side-kick Buddy, an entertainer, turn up and seek to woo them away from the freak show, promising a more reputable career in showbiz as a song and dance act.

Things go well in their new world until romance gets in the way, Violet becoming infatuated with Buddy and Daisy with Terry. Buddy proposes to Violet on New Years Eve, but Terry makes it clear he wants them separated first. They decide to go ahead with one wedding (the mind boggles), a big occasion in public in front of 60,000 people, when it all becomes clear it’s just a different kind of freak show. It’s not a stand-out score, but its good enough. I just couldn’t get comfortable with the subject matter. The trouble for me was that watching a musical about the sisters sometimes seemed like a freak show in itself.

It is an excellent production by Hannah Chissick. takis’ design is terrific. The band under MD Jo Cichonska sounds great. Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are both superb as Daisy and Violet respectively, looking like twins in identical costumes and wigs, with one in higher heels to even them out, and sounding great together. Haydn Oakley and Dominic Hodson are fine romantic leads, and there’s an excellent supporting performance from Jay Marsh as the twins friend and protector Jake. I just wish I could feel the same about the show.

 

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I was flabbergasted when this lovely show closed early in the West End. Now the enterprising Mercury Theatre in Colchester launches a 5-month tour of this scaled-down version which has lost none of its quintessential British charm and eccentricity.

It’s set in 1947 post-war, still rationed, Britain just as Princess Elizabeth is about to marry Phillip. Chiropodist Gilbert, his wife Joyce and her ‘Mother Dear’ are new to Shepardsford and are finding it hard to fit in, and even harder to get meat. Butchers keep closing as Meat Inspector Wormold has them arrested for corruption whilst the town worthies are secretly breeding a pig for the royal wedding banquet, though one of them has named it Betty and rather fallen for it. Gilbert, somewhat uncharacteristically, steals Betty, which causes much chaos at home, what with the smells and all. The show turns farcical as mother gets confused and the worthies get suspicious. Gilbert eventually hands over Betty to be roasted for the banquet, to which they are now invited, signalling their arrival in this closed society.

It’s adapted from Alan Bennett’s film The Private Function by a pair of Americans(!), Ron Cowen & Daniel Lipman, with a score by Stiles & Drew which seemed even better than I remembered. It takes a short while to get going, but when it lifts off its great fun, with the second half working particularly well. Daniel Buckroyd’s staging and Andrew Wright’s choreography are fresh and sprightly and Sara Parks multi-level set enables speedy scene changes.

Amy Booth-Steel and Haydn Oakley (a dead ringer for Alan Bennett!) are excellent leads and there’s a lovely turn as ‘Mother Dear’ from Sally Mates. Matt Harrop is a hoot mooning over Betty and Kit Benjamin’s ears are almost steaming in his frequent rages as Dr Swaby. Tobias Beer is a suitably grotesque baddie as Wormwold. They’re all supported by a fine ensemble. The West End’s animatronic pig is replaced by a much more charming puppet, ably manipulated by Lauren Logan, which brought lots of ‘ah’s’ from an adoring audience. Richard Reeday’s quartet is supplemented by six of the cast playing instruments.

It’s great to see this show again and great that it’s going to be seen by more people around the country in such a high quality production. Gold star to the Mercury team, I’d say.

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