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Posts Tagged ‘Helena Blackman’

The audience is only 66% bigger than the cast, but it’s a full house. It’s performed on the set of the play which occupies the same theatre most of the week. Only 400 people will get to see it (including 2 extra performance!). It hasn’t been revived since it was first produced over 50 years ago. Its crying out for a major staging & if it got one could be the sort of hit Me & My Girl was second time around (though they might have to change the title!). It’s simply wonderful.

Ivor Novello’s musical comedy starts on the stage of Manchester Opera House as the run of a musical flop ends before it gets to London (actually, the show within a show – Ruritania – is rather good). Actress Gay Daventry has lost a fortune backing the show. With start-up funding from a rich(er) fellow actor she gives up the stage and sets up a school of acting in Folkstone, surrounding herself with veteran teachers of singing, acting and dance. She struggles to make a living despite the arrival of a rich student and sub-letting to some smugglers. Of course, it all ends happily – this is 1950’s musical theatre.

The show has some great tunes and it’s very funny. Stewart Nicholls production sparkles. I think they’ve taken some liberties with the book but it adds to the freshness rather than spoils the original. It’s cramped in this tiny space (with audience all round) but this somehow improves audience engagement and enhances intimacy more than it detracts from the spectacle.

But it’s the cast wot does it and boy what a cast. Sophie-Louise Dann gives one of the finest musical comedy performances I’ve ever seen; she sings beautifully and is a master at comedy. Helena Blackman continues to impress with a particular affinity & suitability for this period, as she showed in Noel & Gertie last year. There’s a quartet of veteran ladies – Doreen Hermitage, Eileen Page, Myra Sands & Elizabeth Seal – who almost steal the show with the second act opener ‘Teaching’, Josh Little is an excellent romantic lead and the ensemble sparkles. We even get a cameo from Frank Barrie.

It is a huge treat and it must have a life beyond here. Bring on the Novello revival!

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Producer Danielle Tarento and Director Thom Sutherland follow their hugely successful revival of Parade at Southwark Playhouse with something completely different, Sheriden Morley’s sophisticated entertainment telling the story of the relationship between Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, at a North West London venue that has been quiet for some time.

Morley expertly weaves together narrative, correspondence and Coward songs with extracts from the only two plays they did together (Private Lives and Tonight at 8.30) plus Blithe Spirit, which Lawrence also acted in. This actually gives you a surprisingly full account of the relationship.

Though there’s no set designer credited, they’ve created a stylish 1920’s /30’s space which is lit very well by Howard Hudson. Ben Stock is a very good Coward, playing piano live on some numbers (though this did make the recorded piano on other numbers sound rather flat) and sometime Maria, Helena Blackman, is delightful as Lawrence, delivering in all departments – acting, comedy, dance but especially song. Sutherland’s direction is faithful and respectful of the material, stylish and period perfect, subtly balancing the narrative, comedy, dance and song. 

This is the sort of show we rarely see these days and some might find it rather fusty and dated. For me, it’s a very welcome and long overdue revival of this 28-year old show that compliments other musical fare on the fringe.

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