Me and My Girl

October 27, 2016 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆   Thoroughly tuneful

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 26 – Sat 29 Oct 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Very fine performances and some chorus numbers of an exceptional standard mark out Me and My Girl, EDGAS’s latest foray into non-G&S material at the Church Hill, to Saturday.

The musical, originally staged in 1937 with music by Noel Gay, is in some ways a natural fit for a company that specialise in Gilbert and Sullivan; the storyline about a South London costermonger who discovers he is an Earl could have come from the Savoy Operas, while the scene where the paintings of previous lords come to life is a direct lift from Ruddigore.

Chris Cotter and Fiona Main. Photo Ross Main

Chris Cotter and Fiona Main. Photo Ross Main

However, even now the targets of Gilbert’s satire seem clear, while this seems to have nothing to say other than that a lot of people do very silly things, and the nobility are harmless jolly types. And if this is the ‘modernised’ version, adapted by Stephen Fry in the 1980s, I hesitate to think what the original would seem like now.

There is one element to the ending – the discovery that all a woman needs to put her right is for a man to give her a good slapping – that is frankly inexcusable.

Best not to dwell on the frankly ludicrous story, then, and the concentrate on the series of cheery musical numbers that are done very well indeed. Peter Tomassi invests wide boy turned ‘nobble’ Bill Snibson with a cheeky, raffish charm, and handles the physical comedy very well. His erstwhile girlfriend Sally Smith, deemed ‘not the right sort’ by his new family, is beautifully played by Debbie Spurgeon. Her solos – particularly Once You Lose Your Heart – are tuneful and heartfelt, and there is a real chemistry to their duet on the title song.

crisp and well-balanced

Fiona Main gives Jacquie, who is interested in the new Earl (or at any rate in his money) a devilish brio and real humour; her duet with Bill on You Would If You Could is genuinely funny. Her previous suitor Gerald is given delightfully foppish and empty-headed life by Chris Cotter.

What a lot of toffs. Photo Ross Main.

What a lot of toffs. Photo Ross Main.

Both Main and Cotter are good enough singers to know how to use their voices at the service of the characters; throughout the production, all of the words are wonderfully clear. This is helped by a particularly crisp and well-balanced sound, which has not always been the case in the Church Hill in recent years – special credit to sound operator Ian Cunningham for this. What also helps is a notably good orchestra under the outstanding direction of David Lyle.

That this work was written in a time of greater resources in the West End is shown by the number of characters that in storyline terms are practically interchangeable. This is certainly not true of Ian Lawson’s family solicitor Mr Parchester, whose G&S–style featured number, complete with gleeful capering, is such a joy that it is a shame he is subsequently prevented from launching into it several more times.

The various members of the nobility are fleshed out well by their respective performers. Annabel Hamid’s forbidding Duchess of Dene and David McBain’s Sir John, alternately puppyish and hangdog in his pursuit of her, are an effective double act. Simon Boothroyd and Liz Landsman give Lord and Lady Battersby considerable energy, while John Webster’s Sir Jasper manages to be very funny saying practically nothing. Keith Starsmeare’s butler and Caroline Kerr’s landlady provide excellent timing.

Drive and impact

Good as each individual performer may be, it is the big chorus numbers that really mark this out. There is a real drive and impact to them, with Janice Bruce’s choreography making good use not only of six featured dancers, but also the whole company of over 40. If some of the more ambitious elements later on do not quite come off, this merely reinforces how good it has been earlier.

The Lambeth Walk. Photo Ross Main

The Lambeth Walk. Photo Ross Main

Similarly, one pause between scenes just shows how smooth the rest of it has been. Artistic director Alan Borthwick’s marshalling of his troops is exemplary; everyone knows exactly what they are doing, and The Lambeth Walk in particular is an absolute triumph, making exemplary use of stage and auditorium.

In between the big numbers, there are lulls. Much of the dialogue consists of a series of cheesy old jokes very similar to a pantomime, that need to be attacked with complete conviction and considerable relish, rather than being occasionally thrown away.

However, a great deal of the music is of the highest possible standard, and even the reprise of three separate numbers at the curtain call seems justified.

Running time 2 hours 50 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 26 – Saturday 29 October 2016
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat: 2.30 pm
Tickets: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/me-and-my-girl-edinburgh-gilbert-sullivan
EDGAS website: http://www.edgas.org/home/news.shtml

ENDS

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