Tag Archives: Katharine Moraz

Explosion of Talent

BLONDE BOMBSHELLS OF 1943

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 17th May, 2013

 

Alan Plater’s ‘play with music’ has all the hallmarks of his familiar TV works: sardonic North country humour, cheeky innuendo, sparking dialogue and likable characters.  The story concerns a day in the life of Betty, leader of a dance band, auditioning new players for a big gig later that night.  Because of the seductive techniques of American soldiers over here and over-sexed, Betty’s band, the Blonde Bombshells, has a faster turnover of members than the Sugababes.

The play begins with a prologue – a girl from today in hoodie and Converse tells us this is about a ‘hell of a day’ her grandmother spent during the war, a day in which she learned about love, betrayal, sex and a whole list of things, thereby cranking up our expectations.  It’s a way of framing the narrative as a story, perhaps a tall one, so we accept the conflation of events and the speed at which they happen.

The action takes place in a bombed-out rehearsal space.  The female ensemble, which increases one member at a time, is not only amusing in a deadpan, not quite Victoria Wood skit fashion, but they are all exceptional musicians, playing live.  It is the songs that lift the show – most of them familiar – out of the ordinary – or rather, I should say, the performance of them.  The melancholic trumpet playing (of Sarah Groarke’s Vera), for example, is a bittersweet counterpoint to the wisecracks and cheeriness of these wartime women.

First to audition is schoolgirl Liz (Carla Freeman) who plays a nifty clarinet and appears to become a virtuoso on the saxophone in the course of one day… Next up is the excellent Katharine Moraz as Lily, a nun with a nice line in cheeky George Formby songs.  These two characters are the innocents.  The third auditionee is a bit of a posh tart, Miranda, (Suzi Power) like a young Joan Collins but with a sultry singing voice.   These three are recruited by the worldly-wise Betty and rehearsals begin.

Along comes the only male in the cast, Chris Grahamson as a drummer with a secret – This leads to some rather low-key Some Like It Hot shenanigans and also teases out the darker side of the situation.

The play is short on dramatic tension but more than compensates with warmth, heart and humanity.  You simply enjoy being in the company of these characters and delight in their musicianship, whether you know the songs or not.  Director Kevin Shaw has adapted his Oldham Coliseum production to fit in the New Vic’s arena, which means the performers do a lot of rotating on the spot, but it works very well.  The singing is lovely, the playing divine.   Marianne Benedict is May, on piano – we don’t find out much about her but she can certainly tickle the ivories.  Natasha White is very funny as Grace on double bass, the most deadpan of the group, using jokes to plaster over her personal tragedy.  Georgina White presides as bandleader Betty, bossy but self-deprecating – she hints at personal sacrifice but keeps up morale, which is the aim of the game, after all.  But, in this thoroughly excellent troupe, the stand-outs for me are Katharine Moraz’s enthusiastic nun and Sarah Groarke’s Vera, for her earthy characterisation and her soul-searing trumpet.

You come away thoroughly entertained – this is not a show about the hardship of war, but it is touched upon.  You consider how people appreciated what they had back then and made the best of things, in the shadow of German bombers.  These days when we have everything and take it for granted, our humour is less generous in spirit and our attitudes complacent.  This show made me nostalgic for a time I didn’t live through and grateful for growing up in peace time.

Blonde-Bombshells

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On Queer Street

AVENUE Q
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 28th February, 2012

On the surface, this is Sesame Street for grown-ups but this show is much, much more than cute puppets saying rude words. Now on its second national tour, Avenue Q is a surprisingly piquant musical that says more about modern life and the human condition than a million Legally Blondes ever could.

Fresh out of college with a (useless) degree in English, Princeton (the hard-working, excellent Sam Lupton) rents a house on the eponymous thoroughfare and meets a motley bunch of neighbours, ranging from the human (Edward Judge as wannabe stand-up comic Brian and the brilliant Julie Yammanee as Christmas Eve) to the puppet (Kate Monster, Rod and Nicky) to the, I don’t know what it is, Trekkie Monster. This latter is not addicted to cookies – unless it’s the internet kind. This is all overseen by handyman Gary Coleman, former child star off of Different Strokes (an exuberant Matthew J Henry).

Video screens play animations to support the ‘lessons’ of the story. If you’ve seen Sesame Street, you’ll know the form; if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter. Princeton embarks on a tentative courtship with Kate Monster (a thoroughly brilliant Katharine Moraz, who also doubles as Lucy the Slut) and we follow their ups and downs and, indeed, their ins and outs. Down-to-earth guy Nicky wishes his room-mate Rod would just own up and come out of the closet, but Rod isn’t ready and Nicky ends up down-and-out. .. Characters are led astray by the Bad Idea Bears, a pair of evil angels who cajole you into having yet another drink, or even to hang yourself if things get really bad.

Along the way, the residents of Avenue Q and we the audience learn life lessons, mainly through a stream of catchy songs (a marvellous score by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx). “Everyone’s a little bit racist” one song avers, and we have to agree because we have been laughing at Christmas Eve’s mangling of the English language. “The internet is for porn” – but you knew that already. “The more you love someone, the more you want to kill them,” goes another song, along with “There’s a fine line between love and a waste of time,” – the showstopper that ends the first act, belted out by Katharine Moraz. The show moves from happy-go-lucky sing-a-long fun in the second act as the characters’ problems reach crisis point. Of course, everything is resolved and everyone’s happy; the show closes with an affecting number that points out the transient nature of life and life’s troubles. Even Justin Bieber, the gleeful cast promise, is only for now.

This is a hilarious, life-affirming show, a real tonic. The puppetry is skilful –unlike the Muppets, no attempt is made to conceal the puppeteers – and the singing and characterisations are delightful. Chris Thatcher and Daniella Gibb provide sterling support but the two leads, Lupton and Moraz are astonishingly good, sometimes operating one character while voicing another. These two young performers at the outset of their careers have bright futures ahead, if the word on this street is anything to go by.