Tag Archives: Sara Crowe

Heartache and Hockey Sticks

CRUSH

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 9th September, 2015

 

Set in 1963 this new musical by Maureen Chadwick and Kath Gotts takes us to the world of the all girls’ boarding school. Think Malory Towers and St Trinian’s. Think Bunty. This seam has already been mined theatrically by shows like Daisy Pulls It Off but Big Broad Productions push the envelope further: amid the gym slips, navy knickers and midnight feasts, a schoolgirl crush turns out to be the real thing. Threatened with expulsion for her ‘unnatural’ behaviour in the Art room, Susan Smart runs away to London with Camilla, the object of her affections, only to find that she has set her heart on the wrong girl. Susan is devastated to the point of suicide but a fleeting encounter in a dream sequence set in an underground club for lesbians, shows her life is worth living after all.

It’s a cri du coeur and shot in the arm for any LGBT audience member. Susan is ahead of her time in her resolution to stay true to her heart and reaps the rewards, in true musical tradition, for sticking to her guns. Meanwhile the rest of the school is under duress; the newly appointed headmistress Miss Bleacher is draconian, to say the least, removing Art and team sports from the curriculum. The girls are not there to develop themselves and realise their potential; they are merely breeding stock to produce the future sons of England. And so the play is a battle cry for progressive, rounded education. The girls, led by favourite teacher Miss Austin, seek to overthrow the tyrant and restore the principles of the school’s founder.

It’s great fun and riddled with catchy songs with witty lyrics. What is especially pleasing is the variety within the score, rather than trotting out the same tune over and over. The almost exclusively female cast perform with verve and charm. Stephanie Clift is excellent as the troubled Susan, who may be naïve but her cares are no less heartfelt. Georgia Oldman is great as teacher’s pet and school sneak Brenda, while Brianna Ogunbawo impresses as lovelorn Daimler – she has a solo in the dream sequence that is a definite highlight for me. Sara Crowe is in her element as plucky spinster Miss Austin, while Rosemary Ashe is on top form as the cruel and scary Miss Bleacher. She is a villain we love to hate.

The only male member (!) of the cast is the versatile James Meunier, appearing as a cheeky Cockney chappie of an odd job man, and –another highlight – as female impersonator Marlene (Dietrich, no less) in the fantastical nightclub. Kirsty Malpass is also good fun as substitute Games teacher, Miss Givings – the tap dance with hockey sticks sticks in my memory.

Director Anna Linstrum gets the tone just right and Richard Roe’s choreography offers many delights. It’s a consistently amusing piece, Kath Gotts’s pleasant songs never outstay their welcome, Maureen Chadwick’s book has silliness and a smattering of innuendo, and the lively cast is perfectly charming.  The catchy and varied score is performed by a tight ensemble led by MD Helen Ireland

What lets it down somewhat is the set. Cut-outs represent the school and other pieces of scenery, as though they were illustrations in a novel or a comic of this genre. I get the idea but unfortunately they look like pencil sketches, drab and unfinished. Later scenes in London add colour, supporting the vibrancy of the performers. I think the pencil sketches need inking in at least!

With something to say about the nature and purpose of education as well as the experience of LGBT teenagers, Crush is never preachy or ‘right on’ and deserves a wider audience. The emphasis is on fun and what shines through is a gently mocking affection for the genre that inspired it.

Hurrah!  Sara Crowe leads the girls to battle  (Photo: Robert Day)

Hurrah! Sara Crowe leads the girls to battle (Photo: Robert Day)

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Angels Delight

FALLEN ANGELS

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 2nd September, 2013

The curtain goes up on Paul Farnsworth’s elegant set, the London flat of Julia and Fred Sterroll.  I say ‘flat’ it wouldn’t be out of place as a room in a stately home.  It’s all whites and golds and classical pillars.  At home among this luxurious decor, Julia (Jenny Seagrove) reads snippets from the paper while husband Fred (sitcom stalwart Daniel Hill) utters ripostes between mouthfuls of breakfast.  It’s all what you expect from a Noel Coward.  The dialogue fizzes like champagne.  Roy Marsden directs his cast to be as energised as possible to keep the delivery effervescent.  Also, the playwright’s umistakable turn of phrase is evident with every epigram.  The Sterrolls have appointed a new ‘treasure’, their maid and factotum Saunders (Gillian McCafferty) who turns out to be something of an insufferable know-it-all.

Trouble comes when Julia’s friend Jane (Sara Crowe) brings news that the women’s former lover, Maurice, is coming to town.  They fear their former indiscretions will come to light and at first plan to flee the city to evade exposure.  But the allure of Maurice is too strong to resist.  They decide instead to wait in for him, hoping to spice up their lives, which after ten years of marriage, have become too staid and complacent.

The second of three acts moves from Coward’s coruscating wit and turns into a hilarious display of physical comedy as Seagrove and Crowe become increasingly intoxicated, going from silliness and raucous fun to resentment, aggression and even violence.  It is an absolute treat to behold.

At long last Maurice shows up – Philip Battley, as dapper and suave and cosmopolitan as you’d expect, and helps his former flings to cover their tracks.  Their husbands are, for the most part, gulled.  It feels like the pilot episode of a situation comedy; you can imagine the women getting up to all sorts of fun with the Frenchman, and the husbands being fobbed off with all kinds of far-fetched explanations.

The show is a froth, a confection, with perhaps some kind of admonition to married couples not to let things becomes stale.  The husbands, Daniel Hill and Robin Sebastian, are appropriately stuffy and stuck-up.  Philip Battley is instantly charming.  Gillian McCafferty is superb as the clever-clogs maid.  But the piece belongs to the two main players.  It is absolutely delightful to see mature actresses having the run of the stage, flexing their comedic muscles, verbally and physically.  Seagrove and Crowe are the carbonation in this overflowing bottle of bubbly.

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A Gay Old Time

RADIO TIMES
Derby Theatre, Tuesday 2nd October, 2012


It’s the height of World War II. In a London beset by air raids, comedian Sammy Shaw (Gary Wilmot) is doing his bit to keep the nation’s morale high with his radio show, broadcast live from a West End theatre. He is supported by a company of talented singers, dancers and musicians – including his long-suffering girlfriend, Olive (Sara Crowe). The show is under threat, not only from the Nazis but also from the BBC. The corporation’s rules about what is acceptable and what is not are a headache for Sammy; he is forever having to cut items and find new material. Add Olive’s ex, matinee idol Gary Strong (Michael Hobbs) to the mix and Sammy’s already strained relationship with Olive is brought to breaking point.

The cast all sing, dance and play a range of instruments – the triple threat of musical theatre. It is unfair to single any of them out for special mention; they form too tight an ensemble for that.

As cheeky chappie, Sammy, Gary Wilmot is well within his comfort zone, in his Max Miller suit, wise-cracking his way into and out of trouble. Sara Crowe is touching as the neglected Olive, with a ‘show must go on’ mentality, and a tolerance level that keeps her hanging on long after most people would have shown Sammy the door.

Christian Edwards as sound engineer Jeeps is superb. He sings, he dances, he plays a mean trombone, as well as carrying the romantic subplot and becoming a hero. Amy, the object of his affection is played with elegance by Vivien Carter, who – like everyone else – is a dazzlingly versatile performer.

I particularly liked John Conroy as stuffy producer Heathcliffe Bultitude – a stock figure from comedy: the killjoy. He shows he is full of surprises and contributes many of the comedic highlights of the piece.

In a show where there is never a dull moment, highlights for me include “Hey Little Hen” which involves an outbreak of ukuleles, and the a capella rendition of “Run Rabbit Run” encapsulates the charm of the whole show. Sammy’s heartfelt declaration to Olive, via song, is the emotional punch of the piece, proving Wilmot is not just a cheeky face.

The book is by Abi Grant and Alex Armitage, drawing on the traditions of British comedy. The script is relentlessly funny, dripping with innuendo and silliness. I wonder how much the BBC’s restrictions fostered this type of comedy, where the filthiest things can be mentioned and alluded to through coded references and euphemism. Round the Horne probably wouldn’t have existed without the constraints imposed by that little green rule book. The characters punctuate their corniest lines with an Arthur Askey-esque “I thang ew” – it is the equivalent of writing LOL at the end of your text messages or status updates, except here it is charming.

The score is purely the work of one composer from the era, the marvellous Noel Gay, whose name sums up his best work (from a time when ‘gay’ meant bright and cheerful). The show is a testament to his talent for writing catchy tunes. Like the wisecracks, the hits keep coming. Caroline Leslie’s direction keeps proceedings cracking along at a fair old pace. The show is slick, wildly funny, surprisingly touching andman unadulterated delight. Much as the Light Programme boosted spirits and cheered the nation up during the war, this production is a much-needed tonic in these grim and austere times.