Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Brentwood Operatic Society at Brentwood Theatre


The 2014 musical-of-the-movie has naturally been very popular locally, and now this Cortina Estate of a show has been shoe-horned into the Mini Clubman Brentwood Theatre for a sell-out run.
The large cast fills the uncluttered stage to excellent effect – the opening sequence, with its crescendo of radio news and the whole company walking across, is typical of the inventive approach taken by director Sarah Barton. Scene changes are [almost always] smoothed by musical bridges and muted blues. The upper level is sparingly but tellingly used.
No passengers on this production line – every performer gives total commitment to the inspiring true-ish story of the struggle for equal pay.
Juliet Thomas gives a movingly sincere portrait of the housewife thrust into the political limelight; she combines a strong stage presence with convincing insecurity and inner turmoil. Martin Harris is her Eddie, torn between his love for Rita and his loyalty to the lads on the shop floor. “I'm sorry I love you” is especially effective.
A host of colourful characters. Lisa Harris gives a subtle, and very moving, Connie, wedded to the Labour Party, whose spirit reaches out to inspire Rita at the TUC. The tongue-tied Clare is sympathetically sketched by Sian Prideaux; the potty-mouthed Beryl by Mandi Threadgold-Smith. Kerry Cooke gives a wonderfully committed Cass, and Clare Markey makes the most of the warmly drawn Barbara Castle.
Her Prime Minister – nicely done by Jon Keeler – is merely a figure of fun, and, perhaps not surprisingly, the men do come off rather worse in Richard Bean's witty book, from Graham Greenaway's sadistic schoolmaster to Bob Southgate's Trumpesque Tooley.
Jamie Fudge and Allister Smith, especially, relish multiple roles, including, respectively, the offensive club comic and the camp Hubble from Personnel.
And not forgetting the O'Grady kids, Sam Johnson and Sophie Cooke, both giving fine, full-on performances, and both playing the whole run !
Ensemble work is powerful and highly polished; not only the Stand Up finale, but Wossname, with Clare and the chorus, and the Everybody Out number that ends Act One, with the lads roped in and dragged up for Scouse solidarity. The vocal attack, in Storm Clouds, for instance, is exemplary – Andy Prideaux the MD, leading the band somewhere in the back office. Difficult to achieve a perfect balance in these circumstances, and on an otherwise faultless first night, some of the lyrics, and the dialogue, were hard to hear.
It's a powerful piece, perhaps even more relevant today than when I first saw it … incompetent PM, randy, misogynist Yank on the loose … given a memorable outing by these Essex boys and girls.

production photograph by Claire Collinson

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