Reviews

In this new section Theatrebuff will be reviewing professional and amateur productions and events from theatre to music, comedy to spoken word.

The Capitol Theatre, Horsham. 8th November 2018 - (running until Saturday 10th November)

 

HAODS present a challenging and varied success with this classic insight to the world of Broadway. Set in the soon to be demolished Weismann Theatre, the showgirls and hanger-ons return to their Broadway home after 30 years to relive the glamour of the past and re-kindle the loves that were found, dumped and dumped again. As the drunken party unfolds a four-way love-quadrangle unearths the haunting memories of young lovers vying for each others attention when dancers, Sally and Phyllis, arrive with their husbands, Buddy and Ben. The surrounding characters provide a constant juxtaposition from the 30's and 40's to the musicals present day - 1971 . 

The production is set against a minimalist design with a simple show sign, elevated 'backstage' areas and simple furniture placement against the Capitol Theatres back wall. The show ambles at the start after a typical Sondheim slow-burner as the characters appear and are introduced to the audience, briefly providing a glimpse of what maybe to come later.

The direction is laboured at this point and the pace of the early scenes are predictable and fail to use the width and depth of the stage effectively.  It is unwise to use the excuse that the performers are amateur - that is irrelevant - the performers are a very talented group with some exceptional performances in the second half a testament to this. The opening of the show and for the first twenty-five minutes it was clear that attention to detail was slightly underestimated. With the book by James Goldman and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, you can be forgiven for taking what you can from these great creative giants. 

Act One improves considerably as the characters are becoming more established and some strong performances begin to emerge. Sadly, the entire first half is distracted by some very poor lighting and in particular programming of the cues. Occasional sound issues also distracted. The musical direction, however, was of a very high standard and the large orchestra provided depth and subtlety to the performance, valiantly complemented by strong chorus singers and some outstanding solos - in particular Phyllis and Sally - played confidently by Audrey Lucas and Siobhan McMahon. Martin Bracewell provided at times a confident and capable performance as Buddy Plummer, and Andrew Donovan's ambling interpretation of womanising Lothario, Benjamin Stone, demonstrated how Broadway may have crumbled had 'MeToo' been in existence.

 

The women generally dominated the cream of the performances, although Cameron Rowell's Young Ben was excellent in all areas, adequately supported by Rachel Farrant as Young Phyllis and Alicia Marson as Young Sally. The leading four providing an excellent scene-steal throughout 'Waiting for the Girls Upstairs'. The first half steams towards its conclusion with a gripping performance of 'I'm Still Here', belted by the steady performance of Carlotta Campion by Jane O'Sullivan.

Act Two gets underway with greater fluidity and gives the audience a roller-coaster of emotions to contend with as the four leads rise and fall, to be picked up again at the end. Yvonne Chadwell's direction is cleaner and makes full use of the company. And it is this half we were treated to top-quality singing from Audrey Lucas and Siobhan McMahon. The set was at times cumbersome, and the lighting was exposed as being 'unfinished' as moving head revealed gobo and colour changes as 'live' moves. The fore-stage in particular was at times unlit because of the lack of follow spots, essential when actors are trying to find their light. 

The staging of this show is very complex, with constant mirroring of characters as the older and younger are side-by-side and at times reminiscent of a Greek chorus.

The production redeemed itself with great success in act two. The success of the chorus was mixed, and some of the choreography exposed what the cast couldn't achieve more than what they could. The gentlemen of the company may need extra rehearsals in future!

Ensemble characters worthy of a mention were Tess Kennedy's Hattie Walker, Roz Hall's  Emily Whitman and Ellie Attfield's operatic smash Young Heidi.

If you love Sondheim, then go and see this show, the songs are classics.