RATz My Fair Lady
Early on in the development of this production I asked “Who will be playing Eliza Doolittle? The answer came back that it was Dani. As a massive fan of the supremely talented Danae Larham, I just assumed that they meant her - and that is how it was left for many weeks. Then on a visit to the Angles Theatre for another (there is always another) production, I heard a ‘My Fair Lady’ rehearsal taking place and nipped upstairs to say hello and here was another Dani ….. Shippey (used to be Beare) singing ‘All I Want’. I was confused for about 5 minutes before I realised what was going on. At that point I became deeply concerned. This Dani had not really taken a lead before … I racked my brain to think what major parts of any sort were in her CV …. and came up blank! So here I was (my pre-show Peroni having mysteriously evaporated) taking my seat for Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s evergreen classic musical, My Fair Lady, a little worried…
The story surely needs no re-telling but, if you have let this one pass you by over the 50 or more years it has been around, it’s really quite simple. Misogynist bully and Pheneticist, Professor Henry Higgins, takes in working-class cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to prove to his new friend, Colonel Pickering, that he is such an accomplished tutor he can take the girl and pass her off at a royal ball as a member of the aristocracy in just a few weeks. There are highs, lows and, of course, he pulls it off. However, he has inadvertently fallen in love with her and she with him. It all ends up happily enough although one can easily see an acrimonious divorce some ten years down the line!
The set (design by Robert Williams, construction by Phil Griggs, Gary Johnson and Steve Cawthorne and scenic embellishment by Robert Williams and Mathilde Tranter) was not at all what I was expecting. Completely unspectacular
and rather bland. However, this was actually something else I got completely wrong as it turned out to be the perfect backdrop to everything that took place. It cleverly managed to be the market square, the Higgins study, Ascot and a number of other things whilst also having interesting nooks and cranny’s for people to slip on and off through. My apologies great Williams ….. this was a brilliant set! Lighting (design and execution by Jonathan Salmon) and sound (design and operation by Robert Williams … he does gets about, doesn’t he) were all spot on. So perfect in fact, I can’t remember anything about them … which is the highest accolade I can give. Costumes (Gay Hoyle and Geraldine Moment) were amazing. Plenty of them and looking perfect. Hair and Make up (Dame Kerry Shippey who else) were a triumph and perfectly accessorised the costumes.
Sometimes … just sometimes …. I am a little concerned that the considerable output of this group puts a strain on participation. These leads to another concern that sometimes…. the casts get a bit small. Not a bit of that going on here, with a vast array of performers singing, dancing and speaking with Cockney/Chelsea accents. The chorus were called company in the programme and that is only fair. They worked tirelessly throughout and with some simply wonderful choreography from Cynthia Maxey, filled the stage almost continuously. This was some of the best RATz dancing I have seen here, with quantity, quality and every step looking perfectly appropriate and well within the ability of the person attempting it.
In the supporting roles, Christopher Moment was omnipresent … and never better than as Professor Zoltan Karparthy. A lovely comic characterisation from a really nice guy who seemed to be enjoying himself!
Young Aiden Wallace is always a joy. This time as local Cockney, Jamie, alongside Liam Nixon as Harry. The pair of them managed a lot of other stuff as well but these are the parts attributed to them in the programme. Gay Hoyle was on top form as Matriarch, Mrs Higgins ,with good support from Cynthia Maxey and Curtis McMullan as Mrs and Freddy Eynsford-Hill.
Every time I see a production of MFL … I always (always) come away with the same thought. The most important character in the show is that of the Higgins housekeeper, Mrs Pearce. She has to display so many characteristics and moderate and mediate between Higgins, Eliza, Pickering and Freddy Eynsford-Hill - the whole show really does hang on her! Fortunately for this cast, Rachel Shepherd was perfection. Soft, hard and bewildered, all delivered effortlessly, and to a very high standard. Mrs Pearce and Mrs Shepherd get a paragraph to themselves as I no longer know if the part is supporting or more prominent.
In those additionally significant parts it was interesting seeing the thoroughly nice Josh Shippey acting his age up for a change. As philanderer and well intentioned ne’er-do-well, Alfred P. Doolittle, Mr Shippey (Junior) acted, sang and danced his socks off. In truth, I still felt he looked too young, but it wasn’t important. The
same can actually be said of the nicest man in Wisbech, Jamie Cook, who played the nicest man in the show, Colonel Pickering. Mr Cook may have been a long way from the 70 plus years attributed to the Colonel, but he made a nice job of doddering old/young buffoon. Just like the last Pickering I saw he couldn’t get a laugh out of the ‘Pline Cyke’ ….. It is beginning to look like only Richard Abel can! A good performance from an improving actor.
I have seen Kevin Shippey play this part before. In fact, I saw Kevin Shippey in this part 5 times in a run of 5 performances at the Corn Exchange, Kings Lynn a few years back. The circumstances resulting in that eventuality are unimportant but I do remember vividly that the lines spoken by Professor Higgins during that run were vastly different each night. This may have been a much more compact presentation than that, but I actually felt that Mr Shippey (Senior) looked more self-assured that he did back in the day. A good showing from a very hard working performer.
Now, can someone pass me the humble pie …? I need to ingest a large amount. I am so sorry Danielle Shippey for ever doubting you. Your performance was magnificent and your perceived lack of experience was no obstacle at all. A superb characterisation showing Eliza as soft and sweet when she needed to be and as hard as nails at most other times. Your singing voice was enchanting and you have a smile that can light up most of Cambridgeshire. This was a quality performance from a much under-rated(at least by me) performer. Penultimate paragraph honours are yours Mrs Shippey (junior … no wait) no-one else was in the frame!
My hat is off completely and laid on the stage at the feet of Director, Robert Williams. This title carries a lot of expectational baggage and all the pre-requisite boxes were well and truly ticked with a little innovation thrown in along the way as well. Technical direction could not be faulted and it all looked extraordinarily tidy and under control. I have already mentioned the choreography by Cynthia Maxey, but I must just emphasise once more how very good it was, both in conception and delivery. The same is true of the prodigiously talented Marie Cunningham, once again reprising her role as Musical Director. Just herself and Jane Missin in the pit … and a few keyboard enhancements I suspect. It sounded great. It always does. Bravo RATz. I tend to think of you as taking on the small shows and making them big but this has proved beyond reasonable doubt that you can also do the classics, and do them rather well!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz Sister Act
10th April 2018, 7.30pm, is when the curtain is due to rise on RATz youth production of Sister Act at The Angles Theatre. 10th April 2018, 7.45pm, is when my beloved Liverpool kick off the second leg of their Champions League quarter final against Manchester City. On my way to the theatre I’m wondering if anyone would notice if I found a pub to watch the football in instead...a fleeting thought, obviously I’d be watching the show. I can check the score in the interval.
I arrived at the theatre and collected my tickets with a minimal of fuss, answered obligatory questions about where Mr Hayter is – he’s on safari – and headed to the bar. Sadly the bar staff were incompetent and slow...kidding!! It’s always a pleasure to see a pair of Shippeys before a RATZ show, it reminded me that I’m about to see a show that I have high expectations for – I’ve never seen a RATz show that is anything less than “very good”.
The theatre itself (for anyone reading this who hasn’t been) is one of my favourites. Rehearsal space, performance area, and bar all in one. It’s like my spirit home (if such a thing exists). The performance space reminds me of a university theatre – it’s small but the seating is tiered (with a balcony no less!) and equipped with all the technical bells and whistles of a much larger theatre.
Sister Act (previously working titles include “Whoopi Goldberg and the Singing Nuns”, “Dial G for God”, and “Eddie: Is He Really That Sweaty?”) is the story of Doris Car…sorry, Delores van Cartier, a nightclub singer who is dating a gang leader, Curtis. When she witnesses Curtis murder an informant she runs straight to the police station where “Sweaty” Eddie, an old school friend who is now a police officer, convinces Delores to go into hiding. So Delores is squirrelled away in a convent under the protection of, celestial powers aside, the Mother Superior. Despite struggling to adapt to her surroundings, Delores transforms the church choir from a tone-deaf rabble into hip and happening sisters singing love to the man above. With their growing popularity comes notoriety, and when Curtis discovers where she is, the Mother Superior asks Delores to leave. Delores and Eddie have a moment, but she realises that she belongs with the nuns. Together they defeat Curtis, Eddie gets the girl,
Mother Superior learns about fun, Delores learns about selflessness and love, and little Sister Mary Robert learns to speak out. (Why is it whenever you try and write a plot synopsis it’s always so much longer than you want it to be!?)
I’m going to be completely honest with you from the get go here: I didn’t, and still don’t, think Sister Act is a good choice of show for a youth production. It’s entirely a personal preference, but I think that the content is too adult for 10 year olds to be performing. My other issue is that most shows that are specifically for youth productions are altered to make the vocal ranges more in keeping with young voices. Sister Act is an incredibly tough show vocally, for Delores in particular, but also for Eddie, Mary Robert and the chorus. I thought everyone coped well with the vocal demands, but the balance in the chorus numbers did suffer at times as the top line was over powered by the middle and bottom.
The production itself was well staged, as I have come to expect from RATz shows, the use of the arches was generally good, and the minimalist set worked nicely. With the set being minimalist though, I was surprised that there were so many blackout scene changes. I have long felt that clunky scene changes with background music are outdated, and I would have preferred this to be done in plain view and worked into the production. Personal preference, and I’m sure the rest of the audience didn’t find it detracted from the performance.
The lighting (designed by Robert Williams and operated by Mathilde Tranter) was excellent, it worked for setting the mood and atmosphere without being a distraction. I was very impressed with the band, under the direction of Marie Cunningham. I’ve no idea whether it was a youth band or not because they were hidden from view, what I do know is that at times I forgot there was a band there. I don’t mean they were inconsequential, I mean that, such was the tightness of their playing, it could have been a backing track for the show. Really good stuff.
The choreography, from Laura-Jane Shippey, was appropriate and worked nicely – I particularly enjoyed the choreography for Lady in the Long Black Dress and Bless Our Show. I did feel that some of the bigger numbers looked like they may have been under-rehearsed, with a few arms in the wrong places and a lot of looking around on the part of the cast. I am well aware that I’m not one to judge dancing, but it seemed like the cast lacked a little confidence in some numbers – particularly the finale.
Direction from Robert Williams was generally very good, as was the characterisation (Jamie Cook). There was an element of “stand downstage centre and deliver your lines”, which at times worked and at others looked a little one dimensional. Some of the creative ideas were very good, but perhaps opening night nerves led to the timing being off, particularly in the bar scene. The big chase scene in Act 2 worked well, and it got the laughs it deserved, but again it felt like it needed another week before opening night arrived.
I’m aware I’ve seemed critical up until now, and for that I apologise. It speaks volumes of the standard of this show that I feel I can hold it up to adult amateur productions, I almost never felt like I was watching a youth production.
For the cast…where to begin? The chorus were great, particularly the nuns. I’ve seen this show twice before, once professionally and once on the amateur stage, and I’ve felt on both occasions that the show doesn’t really get going until midway through Act 1 when the nuns sing How I Got My Calling. This particular version was no different. It was a moment I was ready for and yet I still couldn’t keep myself from grinning widely throughout the number. I was impressed with the different characters that came through from those that had fewer lines, I thought Sarah May Fraser was particularly watchable as Sister Mary Theresa.
I was a big fan of Erin Morgan-Reed as Monsignor O’Hara. I saw Ian Lavender in the part several years ago, and if I’m honest I preferred Erin’s representation. The accent was pretty much spot on, and the performance was charismatic and funny in equal measures.
As the three henchmen, Edward Fraser, Owen Angier and Keegan Hanks did a good job of providing the comic relief. Casting Keegan as TJ was a complete cheap shot, how could we not find him adorable!? Particularly when he almost fell off his box – I think I almost died laughing! Lady in the Long Black Dress was clearly an audience pleaser, with whoops and cheers aplenty when the song finished.
If I’m honest, I always feel a little sorry for whoever plays the Mother Superior. While everyone else dressed as a nun is dancing about, singing fun songs and getting laughs, she just plods along devoutly singing about how annoying it all is. I thought Rebecca Phillips-Bartlett handled herself well in the part, particularly because it is written for someone of advancing years. I bought into the character, and thought the transformation to be believable. Well done.
One of my favourite characters in the show is one of the smaller parts, Sister Mary Lazarus. The part is that of an elderly nun who is fiery, outspoken and, frankly, pretty damn cool. This is a rapping elderly nun. I was a little concerned that the humour in this part would be missing in a youth production, because seeing a child rap is just not as funny as seeing an elderly nun rap. Thankfully I was wrong. Bridie Fraser was terrific. The character was spot on, the rapping impressive, and I howled with laughter. If I could offer one piece of small criticism it would be that occasionally the diction wasn’t as good as it could have been and we ended up losing the odd line, but otherwise a brilliant performance.
The principle nuns (fun nuns that is…well principle fun-and-actual-nun nuns) are Sisters Mary Patrick and Mary Robert. Both Phoebe Green and Amelia Mitchell gave quite remarkable performances in these roles. Phoebe was larger than life, over enthusiastic and utterly likeable, with a strong voice to match. Amelia really came into her own in Act 2. I’ll come to the singing in a moment, but the strength of the acting performance could very easily be overlooked and it deserves not to be. There are two key moments for Sister Mary Robert, the moment she asks to go with Delores and the moment she stands up to the Mother Superior. Both scenes were performed with a maturity that really was beyond her years, I honestly clammed up a bit. Vocally Amelia was also impressive, really impressive, The Life I Never Lead was note perfect and emotional.
As Sweaty Eddie, Aiden Wallace delivered a strong acting performance. I really routed for him, and although I think the Eddie/Delores love story is one of the least believable in any show, I at least bought that Eddie was in love with Delores. The audience were audibly impressed with the costume changes in I Could Be That Guy, and the song received one of the biggest ovations of the night.
I owe Harry Bird an apology: when he first started singing I thought that he was miming and there was either a recording, or a veteran crooner singing off stage. It took until halfway through I Know That Girl for me to realise that this sound was actually being created by this under 18 performer playing the role of Curtis. It wasn’t just how well Harry sang, it was how easy he made it look. Coupled with a convincing acting performance the audience were treated to a masterclass, I hope we get to see more of him soon.
Finally, Catherine Missin as Delores van Cartier (aka Sister Mary Clarence). For those of you unfamiliar with the show, not only is it a huge part, it’s vocally challenging and involves a complete character transformation. I don’t think Miss Missin missed (couldn’t resist…) a single note all night, certainly her middle range was flawless, and from the big disco opening to the beautifully reflective Sister Act no challenge seemed to phase her. She had a
commanding stage presence, but she managed the change in character really impressively, particularly when saying goodbye to Mary Robert. I saw Laura-Jayne after the show and told her then that Catherine reminded me of her, there are worse likenesses on the amateur stage!
All that remains to say is thank you for a really enjoyable evening, and I can say that this production stands with its head held high alongside the other RATz productions I’ve seen. My opinion remains that this show belongs as an adult production, but everyone involved should be very proud of the outcome.
Oh, and I didn’t remember to check the football score until 11pm.
Three John Godber’s in three nights had been the plan. Scuppered one third of the way through by illness within the cast and rebooted as ‘A Godber, a night in front of the telly…another Godber and one the next week!’ Not such a strong tag-line I will grant you, but it did accurately reflect the facts. Illness actually turned out to be the very least of the issues that this cast had to contend with in bringing JG’s ‘Bouncers’ to the stage, and when I finally got to talk to Jamie Cook (the nicest man in Wisbech) after the production he simply said “this show has been cursed from day one” And so, in the most difficult of circumstances, I retook my seat for a third time, consumed by sadness at the passing of Emlyn Moment, and overwhelmed with pride at the courage of the cast who were putting this show on just 24 hours later as a tribute.
As I have mentioned before, the three productions (‘Teechers’, ‘April In Paris’ and ‘Bouncers’) had all been delivered studio-style with next to no set and little of anything else really. This, as most of you will already know, is how JG intended it but ironically, of the three, the ‘Bouncers’ set turned out to be the most extravagant. The inclusion of beer kegs was inspirational and provided the perfect backdrop for the play. Costumes were black suits and black T-shirts, make up was minimal, and hair was very much the ‘cast’s own!’
The genius (implied or intended) of John Godber is that his historical snapshots never seem to lose their relevance. ‘Teechers’ and ‘April In Paris’ were completely in tune with 2018 and ‘Bouncers’ has not dated at all. Only the declaration of the amount of money spent on the night out gave the game away. And that is the whole plot! Four guys who work as bouncers, interact with four young girls and four young men all on a night out. All by four performers and a few accessories. Matt Beare, Jamie Cook, Kevin Shippey and Bob Ledger with just their talent and a good script to protect them. The circumstances mentioned above had turned this nights show into something almost evangelical and everyone in that audience was willing them on with each line. A critical review is pointless, as the normal electricity you get when these guys work together was (of course) missing but there were sparks, and they flew a bit from time to time. I laughed from time to time… and they got through it.
What then of penultimate paragraph honours? …. They were only ever going one way. When you think about RATz, you tend to think of three things: the mighty presence and the personality of Kevin Shippey; the energy and creativity of Robert Williams and.…. the quiet genius of Emlyn Moment. Emlyn could slip in and out of a room without being noticed in a way that Messrs Shippey and Williams never could. It has nothing to do with physical size - just presence. But, when you watched an Emlyn Moment show, it was always so unmistakably him and indelibly imprinted with his immense talent. In my opinion, always best demonstrated when he worked with the children … and never stronger than with the astonishing and brilliant production of' ‘Les Mis’ in 2016. At that moment … Emlyn Moment… was as big as two Williams’s and three Shippey’s and towered over the Angles Theatre like a mighty colossus. When I came out of ‘Les Mis’, (still crying) he was standing by the box office, (still crying). We hugged, and I said.” No-one else could have done that” and they really couldn’t!
… and so, Beare, Cook, Shippey and Ledger made it through the script and chose the very last line to make their tribute. Four talented actors, four cans of beer and a toast… ‘Emlyn’. With the dark shadow of his passing taking all the light from Wisbech that night, I have never been sadder, prouder, or happier to have been there for a production.
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz April In Paris
So, due to ill health the three nights of John Godber had become two nights of John Godber with a night off in-between! ‘Teechers’ had blown me away, ‘Bouncers’ had been put back a week … and that left ‘April In Paris’. It was not only one I had never heard of, but (as it turned out) one that did not follow the usual JG format of a small cast playing multiple roles. As I re-took my (still warm) seat at the Angles Theatre the set was even more sparse than on Wednesday and with the Friday night audience numbering only about 25, there was an air of nervous anticipation circulation around those dusty rafters. However, with two of the best amateur performers in this area working together (alone and without much of a safety net) it was a perfect end to the week, as was the lack of rain in Wisbech!
‘April in Paris’ is a beautifully written two-hander that shows us a northern couple in a long-established marriage. With Al losing his job, life has become monotonous and only his shed and a love of painting are keeping him going. Bet works, but she finds the strain of having her unhappy husband home all day, everyday is starting to take its toll. Her passion for entering magazine competitions is rewarded when she wins a short break for two in Paris… and the rest is pure magic.
With no set, no costumes, not very much music and only a few back projections for embellishment, this was character acting at its most exposed. Luckily the two actors laid bare were Wendy Coles and Ian Jones and, in a tight spot (pun intended Robert Williams) like this, they are the two you would always choose. As you can see from the lack of words below this will be a really short review. Not because the play wasn’t good - it was brilliant! With two performers who were undeniably and universally fantastic. No, it will be short because that is nearly all there is to say.
Wendy Coles is just about the finest female comedy character actress I have ever seen. Always performing within her range, she is just a complete joy to watch. With just a slight gender orientation change (she becomes he) the same can be said of Mr Jones. Between them they have notched up countless performances of pure genius and have never even come close to disappointing
me in any parts they have played. Now here is the interesting bit, so pay attention. This was Wendy Coles finest performance to date …. and this was also Mr Jones finest performance to date! Coincidence? I don’t think so! I would normally qualify that by saying … ‘at least in my opinion’ but not this time… that is not opinion, that is fact! They didn’t just wade through a mountain of some of the most difficult dialogue I have ever heard, but they managed to act to a standard that I have only seen a couple of times in my life and … I include all the professional productions alongside the amateur ones. They had just two chairs and a coat each and yet I was gripped for both the two halves of around 45 minutes, without even thinking about looking at my watch! You could have put this on at the Haymarket and Coles and Jones would not have looked out of place. Brilliant, Brilliant…. Brilliant!
Having not a single criticism I am now stating to runout of other things to say, so, I will switch immediately to the awarding of penultimate paragraph honours. They go …. to….. Mrs Jones. For those of you who don’t know her, she is the very pretty lady who sits up the far end of the front row with the book in her hand in case a prompt is required. Not just for this production I hasten to add, but for all Wisbech Players productions. This may had been a RATz production but there she was, head bowed and glued to that script. Now I know Ian Jones very well and, on the rare occasions he needs a little verbal stimulus he gives his dear wife a very hard stare. On this cold but surprisingly dry night in Wisbech, Coles and Jones had waded through so many words with complete ease, and then, as we entered the last 8 minutes Jones throws out ….that stare …. I held my breath ….. Mrs Jones looked up… she looked down…. and she said nothing. Mrs Coles quickly got them back on track and they finished the production prompt free. Mrs J, my hat is off and if I have ever overlooked you before, I will never do so again.
One other, very important thing to say about ‘April In Paris’ is that, with no set, costumes and therefore (fundamentally) no scene changes, Director Gay Hoyle delivered one of the finest pieces of technical and artistic direction I have ever had the honour to witness. It was truly remarkable. In a play where nothing happens how is it possible for her to have made it all so interesting. Every turn, every look and lean, every pause and every eyebrow raise .. was pure genius and Mrs Hoyle must take a minimum one third of the credit for a remarkable night’s entertainment. Nothing about this production was less than perfect (hard stares not withstanding) and everyone involved should wallow in the glory of a stunning night of theatre. I am breathless!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
Three John Godber’s in three nights was the task that the crazy people at RATz had set themselves. Even with three separate casts this was a mountainous undertaking and it all kicked off with a youth production of ‘Teechers’. I love Mr Godber’s work - my favourite being ‘Shakers’, with ‘Teechers’ second and ‘Bouncers’ a slow third. This set of three included ‘April in Paris’ … which I must confess I had never heard of. With RATz musical regular Marie Cunningham in the Directorial chair and three of the brightest youth performers I know in the cast, it was very much all to play for as I took my seat at The Right Angles Theatre, Wisbech, which was being rained on hard … as it is for an average of 323 days a year!
‘Teechers’ is a classic ‘show within a show’, as three school leavers (Salty, Hobby and Gail) from a generic underprivileged school, present their farewell in a dramatic re-creation, documenting their relationship with the newly arrived drama teacher.
The set ….. hadn’t bother to turn up, and to be frank, it wasn’t missed at all. A selection of minor costume changes (enhancements) and appropriate props gave these three child prodigies all that they needed to tell the story. There was lighting, sound and a little back projection, which I think was down to the genius they call Robert Williams …. but the mess of a programme made it very difficult to be sure. I believe I saw Mr Williams lurking on the night, so let’s just agree it was him and move on!
This was completely an ensemble piece and the three performers were so comfortable with themselves and each other that they formed an incredibly tight fighting unit. Two girls and a boy could just as well have been three girls, three boys or any combination… there was just no awkwardness in any of the performances. Just a trio of teenagers having a wonderful time delivering three quality performance. The cast play a primary character each and then represent all the other characters in the story by adding accents, switching facial and physical appearances with a few key props and accessories.
Aiden Wallace was the thorn between two roses and is less well known to me than the others. I haven’t watched him work his way through the RATz Company like the girls, but I would say he has really only found himself (dramatically that is) in the last couple of years. He continues to improve on a show by show basis and this was his best showing to date. Completely confident with his lines and moves … Mr Wallace was the backbone of this show playing Salty .. amongst others.
I named Catherine Missin my Area 4 North Youth Performer for 2017 for more quality performances last year than I can be bothered to name. As Hobby she was once again completely on top of her game. The many, many lines came thick and fast with never even a suggestion that she would miss any one of them.
What a mighty talent Eden Carver is. I have seen her in many productions down Wisbech way and this was one of her best so far. As schoolgirl Gail, she was unashamedly sexy and being so without any embarrassment. Miss Carver has a vast set of facial expressions that can illuminate any production. As with the rest of the cast she was so rock solid with her lines that I relaxed after about 6 minutes.
Sadly, I have a wide selection of suits that are older than these three, but I am learning to live with that. As a trio they were delightfully invincible, and I would not dream of singling anyone out for special praise. They were so completely co-dependant, as Mr Godber intended, that to praise one, is to praise all. Instead I extend penultimate paragraph honours to John Harry Godber OBE who, with this title, has managed to completely capture the cash-strapped school we all went to regardless of whether it was in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, ‘80’s or ’90’s …. you get the idea! The dynamics of school life are still the same. The disillusioned, heavy smoking and drinking teachers are the same and the children never change. His masterpiece is completely timeless and will continue to resonate with all audiences for hundreds of years to come. If you are reading this and went to public school … you will need to Google all that I have just said.
My compliments to debutante director, Marie Cunningham, for an accomplished piece of theatre. The technical direction was well… flawless and the momentum was maintained from the very first minute to the very last breathless exit. This was perfect for a black box set and these three performers were perfect for this production. Miss Missin may well be pleased to have been chosen as my Youth Performer now … but let’s review that after she has had five hours of insincere clapping! Bravo RATz. Another winner!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz Dancing In The Street
In truth, there are very few weeks recently where I haven’t found myself at the Angles Theatre, Wisbech. The amazing group of trustees keep putting ridiculous amounts of effort in to keeping the theatre open by setting themselves a relentless schedule of shows. This Thursday night it was ‘Dancing in the Street’ and I was guessing it would be a musical revue… which it was ... but a lot more besides!
As I took my seat, I turned to Dame Kerry Shippey (who was behind me) and said to her that I thought I has seen all the possibilities for transforming the performance space at the Angles … but here was a cracker I had never seen. The set (uncredited, but it had Robert Williams grubby fingerprints all over it!) was a two level, full width rostra arrangement delightfully lit from underneath. The two performers were on top, the dancers on the flat floor and the band behind. It made that small space look enormous and gave the whole show the look of a cabaret in a (quite expensive) night club. By the time the music started I was in completely the right frame of mind for the show they had prepared.
That show turned out to be a collaboration between RATz singers Robert Williams and Catherine Missin and the dancers of The Katy Lilley School of Dance. There was some crossover as the two male dancers, Chris Moment and Liam Nixon are certainly accomplished RATz performers … and may well be Lilley’s as well. An almost perfect mix of songs with dancing, songs without dancing and dances with songs behind them. The construction of the evening simply could not be faulted and once again screamed “WILLIAMS” at me! The sound (design by Matt Peploe) was good (as you would expect) with the singers and band perfectly balanced and no unnecessary pops or whistles. But it was the amount of time spent on the lighting plot (design by … can you guess? with execution by Jonathon Salmon … which explains why I saw him in the auditorium for the first time ever!!!!) that really made this show stand out.
The choreography was interesting and quite sexy at times with Erin Grocott, Charlotte Lyons, Megan Marshall, Eve Mason, Neve Shaw and Katy Lilley herself well-drilled and dancing to a high standard alongside wonderful Chris Moment and the enormously talented Mr Liam Nixon. Liam is a nice guy, and a fair actor, but when he dances …Wow! The highlight of the dancing was (for me at least) when he and Katy Lilley went it alone for Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ ... which is exactly what it was.
Rob Williams took seventy percent of the available songs with Catherine Missin picking up what was left, with the two of them adding both tenor and alto sax and a little mouth organ action to the proceedings. That mouth organ made Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ my take home tune of the night ... but then it was already one of my favourite songs and Mr Williams totally nailed it! Other first half highlights included ‘Mack the Knife’', ‘Valerie’ and ‘Live and Let Die’ … with only The Rolling Stones’, ‘Paint It Black’, looking strangely out of place!
The second half was every bit as good in all respects with a magnificent ‘Feeling Good’ (‘the Bublé version) opening things in fine style. Other notables were The Beatles ‘Let It Be’, a stunning ‘You Raise Me Up’ and a brilliant finale of ‘From Now On’ from the ‘'Greatest Showman’. Sadly, all of these were completely trumped by Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on the Hill’ which I thought was better than the original. Poor Miss Missin turned out to be suffering badly from a throat infection which explained why she looked so frightened throughout the performance and not at all her usual confident self. To her eternal credit I had no idea until Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ in the second half, where I didn’t think she was going to make it through the song. She is such a talent that, with next to no voice, she managed to find a way to get those big notes out and went on to complete the show…. somehow - and sounded great!
In a show where there was no patter, the comedy moment of the evening was musical, and it came in the form of the Madness classic’ It Must Be Love’. Mr Williams (he of perfect pitch and diction) sang it beautifully … but, after a lifetime of hearing Suggs do it, … it just sounded way too posh. I smiled throughout as I pictured the Eton School Choir singing other working-class classics. There was one extremely loud guffaw from person or persons unknown when it was declared during ‘Piano Man’ that ‘John at the bar’ was ‘quick with a joke’ …. I simply fail to understand the humour in that!!!
This was such a classy night’s entertainment. Perfectly structured, beautifully sung with dancing that always added to the spectacle and never detracted. The three-piece band made a wonderful sound … so much so that I wondered if there were some extra clicks involved. Mrs Cunningham’s piano always sounds like ‘a carnival’ (Billy Joel reference for those who are too young) here so you can never be completely sure. I must also mention Mr Nixon again, who made a great job with the backing vocals … they really made a difference.
Bravo RATz! And Bravo Katy Lilley! This was Am-Dram cabaret in the premiership and just what I needed on a Thursday night!
Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North