Memories are funny old things… triggered by so many different elements (arguably most emphatically by songs and music), they can hit you completely out of the blue like a sledgehammer, or bring about warm and joyful feelings of happy past occasions…
For the second successive show, Studio Theatre have succeeded in transporting me back in my mind to happy childhood memories. During my last visit, Dad’s Army carried me back to cosy Saturday evenings watching the escapades of Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard with my father. Tonight, their musical and comedy variety acts have succeeded in bringing forward so many heartfelt memories of times shared with him, many that I hadn’t thought of in a long time, but all the more welcome for that. The Chairman and Director’s programme notes invite the audience to an evening of nostalgic entertainment – and the company certainly succeeds in providing this!
The raked seating is pushed aside and cabaret style tables set out in preparation for the interval cold supper. Quiz sheets on the tables are an excellent ice-breaker for strangers around the tables to quickly start chatting amiably with each other before the show starts, and the convivial tone of the evening is quickly established.
However, if you want to merely sit back and be entertained… be advised; right from the start, audience participation is both expected and encouraged! Indeed, part of the charm of the whole evening is looking around at the audience and seeing so many people quietly singing along with the soloists and ensemble numbers as Studio Theatre regale us with songs from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. This seems to have been a wise and deliberate choice by the production team, aimed at the expected audience demographic that attends, and works very well indeed. No, I don’t remember most of the songs from when they were originally performed (too young for that!), but I DO recall listening to them from my Dad’s varied musical collection or him singing along to them during comedy shows from my childhood. I suspect that is the case for the majority of the audience, too – either personal recollection of the songs they heard as fresh during their younger days or vicariously through their parents or grandparents, whilst still providing something for everyone to enjoy. This is a highly enjoyable community variety show!
It is true that there were some noticeable opening night nerves and some members of the company are perhaps pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, but this in no way detracts from the entertainment. It is brave to start the company performances with an a cappella soloist, but the singing throughout is tuneful, mostly with excellent diction and musicality. The three-piece acoustic band (birthday boy Andrew Harrison-King on keyboards, David Bennett on drums and Ian Flindell on guitar) are excellent throughout, including the mood-music to cover the slick solo scene changes by Stage Manager, Mike Lailey. Tonight, Harrison-King showed a much underestimated skill in slightly altering his own tempo at times to ensure that the singers were in perfect time with the musicians, but did it in such a subtle way that it was barely noticeable that he needed to do this at all (although the results would have been very, very different if he hadn’t done so!).
When this is such a cohesive musical ensemble production, it seems churlish to single out anyone for particular mention and in fact all shone in their own unique ways (especially Jill Cocovini, Sophie Townsend and Brian Waddingham and Ian Flindell in his role as unofficial MC), but in my opinion, David Taylor completely stole the show with his hilarious comic sketches, whether it was with the stand-up comic routines reminiscent of Charlie Williams or as the buck-toothed vicar à la Dick Emery! With a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin on his face, his comic timing is impeccable, his characters well established and credible, and he quickly establishes a connection and rapport with the audience.
The projected images on the screen at the back of the stage, combined with appropriate, well thought out costumes for each musical number or sketch, all work really well together, and a special mention to the catering team of Jane Waspe, Cynthia Taylor, Cath Burrows and Ann Acton for providing a lovely light supper during the interval.
‘Those Were [indeed] The Days, My Friend’ and ‘Thank You [all] For The Music’ – and a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment!
Ends Saturday 13 April.