Tag Archives: Brian Capron

Movie Musical

THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 15th October, 2015

 

It is commonplace these days to adapt popular films for the stage, often as musicals. Here the 1957 Ealing Comedy (which starred Peter Sellars and Margaret Rutherford) gets the jukebox musical treatment but all the songs are written by the great Irving Berlin. Standards like Blue Skies and What’ll I Do flesh out the action of this utterly charming period piece.

Struggling screenwriter Matthew Spencer (Haydn Oakley) inherits a cinema in a provincial town. The place is on its uppers, thanks to the underhand tricks of the owners of rival cinema, the Grand. Spencer and his wife Jean (Laura Pitt-Pulford) plan to tart up their picture house in order to get a better offer from the rivals, Albert and Ethel Hardcastle. But the Spencers soon find themselves emotionally attached to the old place and the Hardcastles have a fight on their hands.

It’s all good, clean fun, steeped in the sepia tones of nostalgia and brought to life by a likeable and energetic ensemble. Haydn Oakley is a rich-throated crooner but the superb Laura Pitt-Pulford steals the limelight – her solos are showstoppers and a treat for the ears. Matthew Crowe is delightful as camp solicitor-turned-drag-artiste Robin Carter and Ricky Butt is suitably booable as the snooty and conniving Ethel. Sam O’Rourke’s naïve Tom, a walking encyclopedia of cinematic trivia and the Hardcastles’ lovely daughter Marlene (Christina Bennington) bring the house down with Steppin’ Out With My Baby, in which Lee Proud’s choreography brings to mind the wonderful Gene Kelly.

Liza Goddard brings comedy and melancholy as Mrs Fazackerlee, former silent movie pianist, while Brian Capron (having abandoned teaching woodwork at Grange Hill comp) manages to be both scruffy and dashing as drunken projectionist Percy Quill. Musical Director Mark Aspinall and the rest of his sextet play sublimely the irresistible jazz arrangements and swing rhythms of the superior-quality score. David Woodhead’s set evokes the shabby grandeur of the picture house, enhanced by atmospheric lighting designed by Howard Hudson.

Director Thom Southerland captures the innocence of the era, delivering a feel-good piece that’s all warm and cosy like slipping into a warm bath.  It’s sweet, funny and charming, an unadulterated delight.  And there’s nothing wrong with that for a great night out at the theatre. You may also read more into it, if you’re that way inclined. The piece reeks of ‘British values’ in the best possible sense: fair play and rooting for the underdog, decency, loyalty and pulling together in the face of underhand tactics and dirty tricks.  The villains of the piece are those who seek to make profits by whatever means they deem necessary – and that’s something worth keeping in mind in these days under a government inebriated by the will to privatise everything they can get their mitts on.

smallest show

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It’s Beneath You!

PANTOS ON STRIKE
Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, Tuesday 17th January, 2012

This “show for grown-up boys and girls” has a sense of humour that makes Mrs Brown’s Boys seem like Chekhov. The story, such as it is, involves Robbie Williams’s mate, Jonathan Wilkes teaming up with Peter Kay’s mate, Paddy McGuinness when the Fairy Godmother (a very game Zoe Tyler) summons them to Pantoland to save the day. The Princess has been kidnapped. The villain (Brian Capron having a ball) is demanding that Evil be allowed to conquer Good for a change – pantomimes across the land are threatened. Characters form a picket line, refusing to comply until the Princess is rescued.

Or something.

Whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing, they do it at a cracking pace – it’s all about getting from one pantomime set-up to the next. No one is allowed to slow the action down by going into their act. And so we get a messy kitchen scene, plenty of “He’s behind you” and even a flying scene. It’s all childish and juvenile but if you disengage your brain it’s very funny. Too many scenes end with an expletive for a punch line, I found – a sort of get out clause for every situation, and there are times when the stage is cluttered with characters with nothing to do but, on the whole, the silliness and puerile humour work very well.

Jonathan Wilkes (who co-wrote and directed the thing) is the same affable panto persona he usually is. A likable, cheeky chappie who immerses himself into the spirit of the piece wholeheartedly and the audience (admittedly, it’s his home town) are in the palm of his hand, precisely because he treats them as any other panto crowd. The audience regressed to their childhood – that part of childhood spent behind the bicycle sheds. Wilkes is an accomplished performer in musical theatre but pantomime is definitely his milieu. It is a sphere in which few are able to perform so expertly.

Paddy McGuinness is, in contrast, an unwilling participant, mocking and belittling the conventions of pantomime. He is punished (or rewarded, depending on your viewpoint) by attracting the sexual favours of a transvestite dwarf (the energetic Phil Holden) – it will distract him from his habitual abuse of a toy rabbit while he watches a video of Watership Down… You should have a strong idea of the kind of material we’re dealing with here. One can detect the hand of panto god Eric Potts in the structure. The subversion, I suspect, came largely from the brain of McGuinness.

Christian Patterson’s Dame Dolly Dumpling is a joy. A traditional Dame but with a foul mouth and questionable manners, he gives an authenticity to the proceedings – the rest of the cast may be attractive young things in sexy fairy tale outfits, but Dame Dolly is the real deal. Zoe Tyler (Loose Woman and singing coach) is more than up for it, and Brian Capron, formerly the baddie in TV’s longest-running panto, Coronation Street, has fun with his declamations and provoking us all to swear at him.

Politically incorrect and exploitative, you might say, but within context the only criterion for judging Pantos On Strike should be “Is it funny?”

Oh yes, it fucking is.