This musical, based on the 1953 novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell, deals with labour troubles in a pajama-making factory, where workers’ demands for a seven-and-a-half cent raise are going unheeded. In the midst of this ordeal, love blossoms between Babe, the grievance committee head, and Sid, the new factory superintendent.
The show is packed with likeable tunes, and first-time full director Gillian Parry has done well to cover some of the dated and haphazard script requirements. Set in a ‘nowhere time’ mixture of 1950s and modern dress, hairstyle and set (top marks for the ’50s phones and kitchen appliances), the script throws curve balls of a time when licentiousness was an occupational hazard for girls at work. What could have been more carry-on humour might have been acceptable, but the production’s tendency to be a tad too serious in approach at times was confusing and strange.
Knife-throwing and reliance on liquor for amateurs is not easy and Mike Pavitt as Vernon Hines captures perfectly the drunken antics of this perplexing character, forever chasing Sophie Barnard’s warm and enchanting Gladys and resorting to said knife-throwing eventually to prove his point.
It was sad to note in the programme that Neil Maddock was intended to play Sid but, due to a very recent accident, has had to withdraw from the role. It was very brave of the talented Daniel Ferrett to step in with four weeks’ notice to cover the role. And what energy and fine lyrical singing he brought with a virtually unhindered performance throughout, making the most of the script that moves Sid from utter joy in his relationship to sacking his beloved not ten minutes later due to disloyalty to the company.
As his beloved Babe, Susie Maycock’s voice is pure velvet, her second-half repeat version of ‘Hey there’ being particularly good amongst a whole evening of good character interpretation and lovely singing. Her energy and joy in being on stage shone through.
Tina Adams as a doting Mabel, Matthew Pike as Max, Amanda Peaty as Brenda, Ellie Robinson as Poopsie and Paul Dawson-Plincke as the girl-chasing Prez did well in supportive roles, as did David Collis as factory owner Mr Hasler, who was able to sustain a maniacal character who continually seemed one step away from serious breakdown yet inspired loyalty and affection.
Some first-night nerves and technical difficulties affected the pace somewhat, especially some of the scene changes and sound effect timings, but that will speed up as the week progresses. The band under Tom Guyer were also perhaps suffering from their own steam heat, being a little loud in places where essential dialogue was being conducted and lacking in a little bounce in some of the bigger chorus numbers. But these were basically first-night niggles.
All in all, a well-sung Broadway classic.
Future performances: 22-24 June at 7.30.