Christmas has come early to the Maskers Studio – it’s an unusual situation to be asked to review a first dress rehearsal almost a week before opening night and (from previous experience of this venue) I expected the Studio to feel very cold and wintry on a stormy Sunday evening. However, entering the Studio performance area, I was instantly impressed by the set and transported to an elegant drawing room of an Edwardian country estate, complete with illusion of cosy, roaring fire and wooden panels, enhanced by beautifully decorated Christmas tree and atmospheric lighting – an excellent first impression!
An Edwardian Christmas Soirée is essentially a collection of songs, monologues and short performance dialogues in the traditional style of Edwardian Christmas home entertainment, linked by an original script (written by director Sheana Carrington) delivered by the characters from Sir Francis Jacob-Holmes’ household, staff and guests. With such a wide variety on offer, each member of the audience will take away their own favourite performances and items from the evening; it is with that in mind that my own ‘favourite’ moments should be considered.
Standout performers for me are Eric Petterson (Sir Francis), Philip de Grouchy (his butler, Ashton) and SJ Wareham (his maid, Maisie). Each are seamless in their transition between their named characters’ dialogue and interaction, and the different characters that they inhabit for their individual monologues (which they each perform so well, rather than merely reciting, each with an impressive array of accents and personas).
Wareham is completely mesmerising as Maisie. With almost the entire company sat on stage for virtually the duration of each act, it would be easy for attention to wander and focus to drop. Wareham, however, is impeccable with the level of focus, energy, reaction and active listening that she commits to for the entire show, and her characterisations are first class. Her rendition of ‘The Little Matchgirl’ (enhanced by the most delightful snow effect) is a perfect example of the difference between merely reading from a script and giving a performance of a reading – and nobody does this better here than Wareham.
De Grouchy has very impressive comic timing and delivers a masterclass in Spoonerisms. Petterson slips easily into an MC role when introducing the visiting quintet of carol singers, The Nightingales (SOS Entertainers). Of these Nightingales, Miss Melanie (Mel Mastrototaro) gives a star performance, whether singing operatically, in an ensemble or as a feline, with her vocal performance, facial expressions, physicality and whole presentation level.
There is excellent support from Marie McDade (Sir Francis’ wife, Lady Helena), Christine Baker (his housekeeper, Mrs Glossop) and an impressive debut performance from Peter Court (family friend, Edmund Braithwaite). David Jupp’s cameo performance as Uncle Herbert is deliciously wicked, politically incorrect if viewed from a modern perspective, but ideal in the portrayal of the amorous elderly Edwardian Uncle, and his singing voice is as rich as ever. There’s also a delightful vignette from John Hamon, who not only designed the set so beautifully, but entertains as the incorrigible magician, Monsieur Reynard.
There is a risk with a show of this nature for the narrative to seem disjointed and forced links made between individual items. It is to Carrington’s credit that this is not the case; admittedly during the first dress rehearsal, there were a few sticky moments and timing issues to perfect, but I am confident that with the couple more rehearsals between the dress that I saw and the opening night that these will be resolved, and indeed for the majority of the dress rehearsal the pace was very good, especially in the individual items.
Opening Friday 7 December, this sold out show runs until 14 December (with no performance on Sunday 9 December) – if you have a ticket for this, be prepared for an enjoyable and charming evening of traditional festive variety entertainment, complete with mulled wine and mince pie during the interval.