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Beauties, Beasts and Barricades – A Musical Extravaganza

These are stirring times for the Bournemouth Gilbert & Sullivan Society which, having been known by that name for 72 years, has re-invented itself as Bournemouth GaSP. The reason is that Gilbert & Sullivan simply don’t put bums on seats any more, at least not in the numbers that allow a Society devoted to their works alone to remain viable. The re-branding will allow the Society to widen its range into other composers’ works, and in many respects this concert is the first step in the process. There are two numbers each from Iolanthe and Pirates, but the rest of the evening is a chronological reflection on musicals from Die Fledermaus to Les Mis.

As BGaSP embarks on this new phase, it must play to its strengths, especially the quality of its singing. I’ll stick my neck out and say that no amateur choir in the Bournemouth area, let alone any musical theatre company, can match BGaSP when they are on form. If you want proof, this concert provides it. The ensemble singing is terrific, with ‘With Strephon For Your Foe’ standing out. Established soloists play a full part: for example, Mike Griffiths’ dark brown bass in ‘Ol’ Man River’, Eleanor Riley’s sophisticated ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, Amanda King’s ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ and Bruce Vyner, who played tenor leads for the Society for many years, showing how much he is missed in ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ from Beauty and the Beast.

However, one of the most delightful aspects of the evening is hearing from those who have rarely if ever featured as soloists. Ann Terry’s movingly vulnerable ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man’, the purity of Christine Skidmore’s voice, especially in her duet of ‘Tonight’ with Tony Broomfield, and the sweetness of Kimberley Rowland’s ‘There Is A Castle On A Cloud’ all stay in the mind. The quality of these singers, who are more usually members of the chorus, gives a clue to why BGaSP reach the standards that they do.

The size of the stages on which the concert is being performed does not allow for elaborate choreography, but director Claire Camble-Hutchins has introduced lots of interesting movement and wisely makes full use of Tanya Lerche-Lerchenborg’s sensational dancing in ‘Entry Of The Fairies’ from Iolanthe and, with Wendy Costigan, in ‘All That Jazz’. Helen Brind is the musical director and is also credited with devising the ‘musical concept’.

The items are linked with suave authority and good humour by Robin Lavies, but are the links really necessary? They give the concert a slight air of a lecture evening and are one of the past practices of the Society that may not fit with its new image. Both a compliment and a criticism is that the evening is too short: it’s so good that I wanted more, and if I had been paying full whack of £12 for my ticket, I might have felt entitled to more than two halves of forty minutes each.

It will be intriguing to see what sort of butterfly BGaSP turns out to be as it emerges from the chrysalis of the Bournemouth Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Singing and acting The Sound of Music or Les Mis, say, requires more vivacity, verve and general pizzazz than the more formal, however amusing, Mikado or Patience. Those qualities are not especially conspicuous in this concert, although Patrick D’Ardenne’s enthusiastic and energetic ‘Get Me To The Church’ is an honourable exception. Attracting younger performers will be vital – for the majority of those on stage, youth is not much more than a distant memory (a category into which your reviewer also falls) – but those youngsters will want to see something in the Society’s repertoire or attitudes to attract them. It is a tricky chicken-and-egg situation, but Beauties, Beasts and Barricades is not a bad start. Catch it at Pelham’s Leisure Centre, Kinson, on 11 April, the Regent Centre, Christchurch, on 12 April or Beaufort Community Centre, Iford on 13 April, all at 7.30pm.