Thursday, February 24, 2011

Latchingdon Arts and Drama Society,
Tractor Shed Theatre, 

Mary Redman took her seat in the Tractor Shed ...

This was such a spectacularly impressive show achieved by an enormous amount of hard work on the technical level, but someone should have taken a shotgun to writer Linda Woolverton before she had the opportunity to set hand to keyboard. Her clanging Americanisms and limited United States view of France, and French fairy stories by writers such as Charles Perrault in particular, don't allow anyone with a sensitive ear for language to relax, and that's a great pity because the story is a good one.
A handsome, aristocratic but uncouth and selfish Prince (Aden Gardner) is changed into an Essex Man Beast (Jon Greaves) because he spurns an old woman's request for help. From an equally uncouth beginning Jon's performance gradually revealed how the Beast learned his lesson and changed into a sympathetic, soft hearted and heartbroken, romantic man craving love from the beautiful Belle (Aimee Hart).
Aimee herself revealed Belle's self confidence and no nonsense, direct nature backed by a promising singing voice, acting skills and assured stage presence. Dan Bavin's preening, cartoon style muscle mann suitor Gaston wasn't going to take no for an answer from Belle with his blunderbuss and his sidekick LeFou (translates as The Idiot) the bouncy Ryan Allum, provided a great deal of the unsubtle humour of the piece.
Gradually we were introduced to the magical characters of the Beast's castle from Arthur Barton's self-important Cogsworth, Alan Elkins's flashes of brilliance as Lumiere (Light), Carole Hart's fussy Mrs Potts, little Mason Chegwidden as Chip, Lani Calvert's ooh la la Babette to Jamie-Leigh Royan's showgirl and eyecatching Wardrobe.
There were great supporting performances from the various villagers while Robin Warnes had an opportunity to shine as Belle's Father Maurice, the inventor of the utterly astonishing, fully functional Rowland Emett-style car which we had all too little time and the sight lines to appreciate.
Now to the aspects that made the show so memorable on other levels. Musical Director Kris Rawlinson handled Alan Menken's delightful music with great assurance. With 17 other musicians at his command, he led from the keyboard, creating a genuine, professional musical theatre orchestra sound that swept the show along.
Kath Lang, aided by Marilyn Green, Leah Bavin and Cheryl Rawlinson, created perfect, jaw dropping costumes. From the wolves to the villagers and the castle inhabitants whose clothes reflected their characters personal qualities, there were crinolines and glamour, Belle's wonderful glittering pink meringue and Beast's elegant velvet and gold suit, all created with wit and craftsmanship. I would love to see them close up for their attention to details.
Turning to scenery and props, director/designer Peter Jones was aided by the constantly busy stage management team led by Claire Playle, the set building team led by Kevin Britchfield including Arthur Burton's set painting, and above all the technical effects team's Colin Leveridge, Cliff Barron and Frank Burgess who were responsible for the wonders such as the car, Lumière’s lighting up times, the wolves' gleaming eyes, the miniature working water mill complete with doves that moved, and much, much more. All that hard work really paid off people!
I would have appreciated better sight lines all the way through since the concrete base at the rear of the auditorium has disappeared. In such an episodic production a smoother, faster transition between scenes would have speeded up the show and created a better flow. There were too many cases of characters popping on for a few words, leaving the stage and the next few characters not being there immediately to pick up the cues. It does slow things down and it isn't just LADS who are guilty either.
All in all this was a truly spectacular production which proved that hard work in every department pays off handsomely. I hope to see it getting its highly merited mentions in award lists later this year.

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