The Drowsy Chaperone

Apr 5 2017 | By More

★★★★☆   Sheer enjoyment

Church Hill Theatre: Tues 4 – Sat 8 Apr 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

Considerable musicality, high production values and dollops of good fun make the Twilighters’ production of The Drowsy Chaperone at the Church Hill a real treat.

The 2006 Broadway production, with a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, is certainly not the best-known musical of recent years. This may be down to a less than inviting central concept – a ‘show within a show’, as a curmudgeonly fan of musicals guides the audience from his armchair through a performance of his favourite, the (fictional) 1928 affair The Drowsy Chaperone.

A scene from the Drowsy Chaperone. Pic David Welch

It is much more fun and much less self-referential than such a description makes it sound, featuring parodies of 1920s music and musical theatre in general that are essentially sympathetic but nevertheless have some recognisable bite to them

It certainly will appeal more to devotees of the genre, but anyone who might enjoy the idea of a romantic duet where one of the participants is a rollerskating, blindfolded bridegroom would undoubtedly have a great deal of fun here.

Once we have got the hang of what is going on, the interjections from the narrator remain unnecessarily frequent – do we really need to be told about fictional performers from the 20s in such detail? Despite the stories from his past that flesh out the narrator’s role, it becomes a little repetitive and tiresome. It is to Derek Ward’s credit that he makes the character so sympathetic.

The central conceit also lends itself to too many ‘stuck record’-type interruptions that need more in the way of split-second timing than they get here.

energy and comic timing

Another definite drawback is the way that remarks of the nature of ‘they got away with that in the 20s, you’d never do it now’ are used to excuse having your cake and eating it – the ‘Chinese’ section that opens the second act is horribly out of place in a 21st century show. By comparison, Adolpho, the comedy European stereotype played with such energy and comic timing by Steven Smyth, is a model of taste and decorum.

Darren and Dorothy Johnstone. Pic David Welch

Most of the humour is less problematic, and presented here with such gusto that it overcomes any objections. There is huge life and joy in the chorus numbers, with Sarah Henderson’s choreography impeccable. Throughout, there is a surefootedness to Laura Jordan Reed’s direction that gives the cast every chance to show off their considerable talents.

There are moments here – notably the tapdancing duet on Cold Feets between Lech Boron’s bridegroom and the impressive Rory MacLean as his best man, that are as straightforwardly enjoyable as anything you are likely to see.

Throughout, Boron combines a goofy charm with great presence and a genuinely strong voice – qualities echoed by Claire MacLean as his fiancee Janet. Philip Wilson, as Janet’s erstwhile employer, Follies producer Mr Feldzieg (see what they did there?) has an understanding of comic timing that is shared by Mairi Beaver as wannabe starlet Kitty – combined, in her case, with an innate musicality that gets the best out of comedy dance routines.

comic presence

Dorothy Johnstone, as the absent-minded dowager Mrs Tottendale, and Darren Johnston (her upright butler) perform a seemingly endless parade of ‘spit-takes’ with great aplomb. Phill Dobson and Laurence Aitken’s disguised gangsters also have considerable comic presence, even if their accents do wobble on occasion.

The Cast of the Drowsy Chaperone with Derek Ward as Narrator (right). Pic David Welch

The marvellous work done by MD Alison Rushworth and the band in essaying a variety of period musical styles does not entirely disguise one of the possible reasons why the piece has not been more of a success – the tunes are not particularly memorable.

All the more credit then, to Janice Bruce as the chaperone of the title (whose ‘drowsiness’ can be put down to prohibition-defying hooch) for making such a splash with her inexplicable, show-stopping ‘rousing anthem’ As We Stumble Along. Credit too to Anne Mackie for her equally impressive, equally inexplicable finale turn as Trix the aviatrix.

Throughout, there is an attention to detail in staging, sound balance and lighting that is extremely commendable and contributes greatly to a highly enjoyable whole.

Running time 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Tuesday 4 – Saturday 8 April 2017
Tues – Fri evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
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