Milton Musical Society     Forest Arts Centre, New Milton Darren Funnell  29 November  2023

I’ve been stuck at many an airport. Back projected howling snow at ‘Departures’, playing at the Forest Arts Centre this week, reminded me of being hunkered down at Chicago O’Hare airport, caught in an overnight circular floor-numbing nightmare waiting for a snow plough to clear the runway with no lounge open, no refreshments and staring desperately at the dawn. By the time I boarded, the air stewardess looked at me as though I smelt. I mention this as it would have been more enjoyable had Milton Musical Society been standing by their suitcases with me.

It’s a nice conceit from Tracy Knapp and Olwen Adams in which to throw in a medley of show tunes. Stuck at a departure lounge. It allows a range of passenger characterisations, largely held together by the cast, to easily blend in the different musical genres without feeling as if they threw open a copy of 100 Best Musical songs and waited to see where it landed.  As the show checks-in it is immediately clear ‘who is who’ with some nice idiosyncrasies being performed, accentuated by costumes and make-up. The use of the space by Set Designers Grahame Goodyer and Sid Coe extends beyond the confines of the stage with simple, yet effective, signage.

Musical Societies are an inclusive bunch so the range of talent can vary quite a bit. Nothing wrong with that. It is always good to see a society that has room for everyone to have a go. I do find that typically societies feel less comfortable with acting transitions between songs which can result in feeling a bit ambulatory. Not only screaming for being stuck at an airport but also for a bit more pace and energy. I am not a fan of obligatory radio mics in small venues as they are very tricky to balance with a large cast. I am not sure they quite succeeded here as some good singers were levelled out.

As for the singing, which is, after all, what the audience comes to enjoy, there is no doubt this is a jolly show with some jolly singers.  A lot of warmth and camaraderie is thrown out to the audience that quickly brushes aside any occasional unevenness and makes for a fun night.

The programme, whilst top-notch in terms of design, confused an easily perplexed reviewer in identifying who sang what. I think I’ve figured it out by process of picture counting but please forgive any muddle. I need more ‘Coffee’ – that was a good number. Anyway, here goes.

I enjoyed Michael Pickford’s “Travel Song’. He was the best at maintaining character throughout. The ‘Young Hopefuls’ (Tara Hastings, Emma Hardy, Latayan Richardson) were motivating, particularly in ‘All I Wanna Do Is Eat”. I was hungry after that too. Emma Hardy can cover the whole gamut of legit, belt and twang. Like her. Perhaps a bit more of Latayan next time? ‘The History of the Wrong Guys’ was a great character number from Tracey Alford. Very believable. Who doesn’t love a group of ‘Diamond Ladies’? I am sure it was Ellie Tripp who did ‘Always a Bridesmaid’ which I hope I have right as, for me, she was the best all-round performer of the night. Marie Coltman (I think) delivered a poignant and heartfelt ‘Losing My Mind’ (I can see where she is coming from!). A great ‘Me and the Sky’ too. Peter Hall delivered an understated ‘Mr Cellophane’. If I was missing the jazz hands, there were plenty elsewhere. Even this black-hearted reviewer could not help being charmed by ‘When I Grow Up’ sung by the young Frida Berry. If you want an object lesson in a supportive Dad (Tim Berry) showing oodles of love for his daughter and letting her shine, along with Ashleigh Barker, then this is worth the price of admission alone. ‘Amazing’.

Right. Sorry Nuns and airport staff and anyone else who didn’t get a mention. You were all lovely. ‘Departures’, on at Forest Arts until Saturday 2nd December, is the epitome of a musical journey. Though a word to the wise. It is a brave society that gives a reviewer a gift of a musical number in ‘There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This’ as a potential tagline. Thankfully, on balance, it was a good, jaunty well-conceived, unchallenging, adeptly performed fun night out. Pack your cases. Buy your tickets. Get ready to fly. It does the business, running until Saturday 2nd December.