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Posts Tagged ‘Matt Harrop’

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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Back at the Union for the first of what I hope will be many musicals this year.

This is an intriguing one, because its sub-operatic score make it very different  from almost any other Broadway musical comedy. It’s also a late 70’s show masquerading as a 50’s show; I was shocked when I read the date of the first production in the programme.

The Americans have a lovely practice of naming long train journeys and The 20th Century in the show (but not on Amtrak) runs from Chicago to New York City and the whole show takes place on it. Hapless theatre producer Oscar Jaffee is running from his investors after three flops. En route he tries to set up a new show with the movie starlet he discovered (the flashback to that isn’t really clear enough in this staging) and a rich old lady as ‘angel’.

Here it’s given a manic / cartoonish / slapstick / silent movie style which works well. I’m not sure playing it along the length of the Union space works as well here as it did with the recent Bells Are Ringing and the design (on a shoestring) is pretty basic, but good enough. The staging of the chorus numbers is particularly good, as is the rather novel band configuration of piano and six saxophones.

What really makes this show though is outstanding casting by Amy Rycroft (not sure I ‘ve ever name-checked a casting director before?!) who hasn’t put a foot wrong. Howard Samuels producer is a terrific lead in Marx Brothers mode and his excellent leading lady Rebecca Vere is perfect for the period (of the story, rather the first production). Musicals veteran Valda Avkis is made for the role of rich naive Letitia (who turns out to be a ‘nut’ in a delicious politically incorrect twist). Matt Harrop and Chris David Storer are very good as Jaffee’s sidekicks.

This is better than the two previous productions I’ve seen. The youngsters at the Guildhall School were hampered by being, well, youngsters and the Bridewell production had less fizz (I refuse to believe that was only just over three years ago!). Yet again, we have to say what would we do without the Union….

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