Strike Up The Band – Play On!

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Playing at Upstairs At The Gatehouse until 31st March 2019, this is revival of the George and Ira Gershwin’s and George S. Kaufman’s piece described as ‘A musical fable of Love, war and Cheese’ it sounded interesting and from a solid background.

Presented by Alces Productions this version runs at approximately 150 minutes (including a 15 minute interval).

The Gatehouse is a lovely pub which serves food at its restaurant (including Sunday lunch roasts – book early!) and bar snacks. It has a varied selection of beers and wines too as well as a great ambiance so a good place to Pre or post  show drink and dine.

The theatre is located above the pub (hence the name!) and is a great area. Accessed by stairs which has laminated posters of previous productions and stars on its walls, making the entrance very atmospheric. At the top of the stairs, you arrive on a level which has the box office (in front of you), the green room to your left and entrance to the auditorium to your right.

I collected my ticket from the lovely lady in the office and it was select your own seating.

A few steps to the auditorium entrance and you enter the venue. What was a nice touch is that there is a cloths rail by the door so that you can self hang any coats or jackets which is not charged for which makes a change but of course at owners risk.

The venue is a large space and you enter from the bottom left of the venue down an aisle between the side seating and the longer front facing seats. For this production there was no raises stage (and I expect that to be the same for most productions as this is the floor/stage). Seating is arranged on three sides of the stage area in Thrust style and has two smaller blocks on stage right and left and a longer block in front. Each area has rows of seats, each row set up on its own level making the view clear. The seats are comfortable flip down modern seats with arm rests which for an off westerns venue are very comfy and makes a change from benches or wooden chairs.

The set for this production is very mobile with one area being ‘fixed’ through out the production. This fixed area is a large raised area which has two chairs and table set with a telephone and family picture, all framed with a large border that has a set of white movable curtains. At the front centre of  this is a triangle with point down, like a wedge of cheese, with the company logo on – F.A.C. and a triangle block of cheese. This stands for ‘Fletcher’s American Cheese’ and is the name of the company within the show. This piece of set remains fixed at the rear stage right and the table and chairs are brought out as needed. There are four large mobile boards that are used to create the office scene (painted walls and wooden accents) and a mountain scene (of green meadows snow-capped mountains). These not only add ‘walls’ to the set they also act as a ‘sound barrier’ from the orchestra who is sat on far stage left. Various items are cleverly bought onto stage for use like a tea trolley with the post on or more chairs and then used in the scene.

Richard Emerson (playing Horace J. Fletcher) is excellent as the owner of the company who is trying to make his cheese America’s favourite at any cost. He has great comic timing and a strong voice which is used well both for the script and the singing.

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Richard Emerson (as Horace J. Fletcher) photo credit Andreas Lambis.

He also manages to use some excellent facial expressions that enhances the character and makes the humorous points even funnier.

Beth Burrows (playing Joan Fletcher) is excellent as the loyal but distracted daughter of Horace (Richard Emerson) She has a fantastic singing voice that manages to deliver some emotional songs which are all clearly heard. She has an expressive face too that adds an extra dimension to the character, especially when her ‘secret’ is out.

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Beth Burrows (as Joan Fletcher) photo credit Andreas Lambis.

Paul Biggin (playing Jim Townsend) is brilliant as the young reporter, once dairy farmer, who discovers some wrong doings and in doing so ends up in the ‘war’. He has a great stage presence and his star works well for both the confident news reporter and as the slightly deflated private. He has a strong voice that is used well during the show and also harmonises well with the cast.

Pippa Winslow (playing Mrs Draper) is brilliant as the mother of Anne Draper (Charlotte Christensen) as a strong and confident lady who is going along with things. Playing a lady with upbringing, she manages to convey the feelings and comedy of the character and at times, the appalling situation she is in. She has great comic timing too which works well especially in the scene with Horace (Richard Emerson).

Charlotte Christensen (playing Anne Draper) has a wonderful high pitch school girl voice which works well for the character meaning that we get a sense of her naivety too. When discussing marriage with Timothy (Adam Scott Pringle) she becomes a bridezilla which adds another dimension to the character. She has a great singing voice which works well and harmonises well with the cast and in the duets.

Adam Scott Pringle (playing Timothy Harper) is excellent as the young man in love with Anne (Charlotte Christensen) and also trying to make his way in the F.A.C. company. He has an excellent singing voice and manages to create some great facial expressions from surprise, to bewilderment and military stance. I loved his face during the marriage discussion scene with Anne.

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Charlotte Christensen (as Anne Draper) in the arms of Adam Scott Pringle (as Timothy Harper) photo credit Andreas Lambis.

Robert Finlayson (playing Colonel Holmes) is brilliant as the President advisor who arrive on the scene to evaluate if the company. He has a great stage presence and this adds to the ‘feel’ of the charter and combined with his strong voice, ensures that you hear his lyrics during the musical numbers and also during the script.

Sammy Graham (playing Bob, factory worker and soldier) is great at all characters. She has a strong voice and a great stage presence (being one of the taller ladies the play!) and she has some hidden talents – such as when she tap dances – all add to the characters. She has a strong voice and a good singing voice too.

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Robert Finlayson (as Colonel Holmes) with Sammy Graham (as Bob) photo credit Andreas Lambis.

Nicholas Mcbride (playing C. Edgar Sloane) is brilliant as the stiff upper lip gentlemen who has a sense of grace about him which borders on snobbery. He has a great voice and this is used well when singing and also to add depth to the character when speaking. I loved the way that he created the feeling of somebody who you would be wary of and lost not trust!

David Francis )playing George Spelvin) is superb as a character actor and this is used well as his main character plays several others within the play such as a postman or factory worker (all crucial to the plot!). He has a versatile voice which manages to reach some high notes as well as adds an unusual pitch to the voice, I loved his postman who was almost an homage to that in ”Allo, Allo!’.

Overall this is a great revival of a production that, when it was first produced over 90 years ago, was not well received due to the satirical material for the time. Thankfully it was not lost and has now been brought back. It brings a breath of fresh air to the musical world as this musical has you rolling through a farcical situations, with its almost slap stick humour, making you laugh and hum some of the songs. A great production that is a must see.

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