Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Dreamcoats & Petticoats - Richmond Theatre

Dreamboats & Petticoats
by Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran
Director: Bob Thomson
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

It would be interesting to take a group of teenagers to see this production. They might well feel it was a period drama. So it is, to some extent and yet the story is universal. Boy falls for wrong girl, right girl consoles herself with wrong boy. First boy then falls for right girl and wrong boy finds wrong girl who turns out to be his right girl and becomes her right boy. Anyway, they all live happily ever after. There is also the sub-plot of the little schoolgirl who loses her teeth brace, takes off her glasses and becomes the local belle. This is not giving away the plot as what is going to happen is obvious from curtain up.

However, based on this abbreviated story line is an entrancing two hours of youthful exuberance, singing, dancing, arguing, quarrelling, mooning about and playing ping-pong.

Several of the cast of eighteen double as both instrumentalists and dancers and/or singers, some of them doing both at the same time. Many “other characters are played by members of the company” so it is too dizzying to follow every change. For instance the actor who plays the hero’s father seems to be his grandfather as well, practically at the same time. The confusion makes it difficult to single out particular players but the relatively new Daisy Wood-Davis is perfect as the ingenue and Jennifer Biddall carefully plays the brazen Sue as fast, but not loose.

Under the direction of Bob Thompson Scott Bruton’s Bobby wins our support from the outset while Ben Freeman’sNorman is the boy every parent dreads their daughter bringing home. His schooling at “Grange Hill” must have been very character forming.

The evening is set mainly in St Mungo’s Church of England Youth Club “somewhere in Essex” circa 1961, where the band, or group, they cannot decide which, rehearse amongst the table tennis playing, the hula-hooping, the fizzy drink selling and the flirting. Set designer Sean Cavanagh uses scaffolding which arrives and departs as necessary to become the high-rise flat where the adult Bobby now lives with his granddaughter, or Southend Pier. The difference between the two is the lighting of Mark Howett who has given us every effect from gaudy to romantic and executes the final curtain with great pazazz.

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s script is full of youthful longing with the occasional ironic aside which only a post millennium audience would find amusing. It would be interesting to know the age of the choreographer Carole Todd. Reading the long list of her achievements it is just possible that she saw rock and roll at its height before it degenerated, through the Twist and the Shimmy-shimmy Shake, to the mindless, on the spot twitching of today’s club scene. Her dance moves are exactly as we danced, or rather, as we wished we could dance. (Don’t argue with me, I was there.) Nothing over the top to render it unbelievable but exciting both to perform and to watch.

Musical director has arranged over forty songs into a cohesive story line even if some excerpts were tantalising brief. Ben Harrison did a fine job in the sound design department with the energising beat, which revolutionised social dancing, never overwhelming the melodies which, in turn, did not obliterate the words. We were never blasted out of our seats.
The costumes of Brigid Guy were delightfully in period although I was less sure about Emma Hatton’s hair style, that strange quiff and a pony tail at half mast.
But altogether Ben Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield have produced a delightful evening’s entertainment, enough to brighten any credit crunch. Cries of “Wonderful!” from the seat next to me and the accolades of several teenagers, one of whom particularly admired the “vintage” aspect, confirmed me in my opinion that this is a thoroughly enjoyable show on all counts and is for all ages.

Dreamboats & Petticoats runs at Richmond until Sat 4th July
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