Aldermaston Players, February
Review by Hugh Terry.
Elegance, sophistication, a
certain dry, droll and occasionally mocking, biting humour – not the kind of
thing you might normally associate with Aldermaston Parish Hall. Unless that is,
you happen to have been fortunate enough to catch the Aldermaston Players’
latest urbane offering, ‘Oh, Coward!’.
If you did catch it, chances
are you will have been treated to a jolly good repast to boot – a luxury not
afforded this critic, for reasons of space! But it was a good sign that I was
advised punters should leave plenty of room for the cheese board…
Anyone unfamiliar with the
writings of Noel Coward may regard his humour as an acquired taste – but it is
one which, once acquired, never loses its magic. Dated? Certainly – if only
because Coward’s output reflected his time and place, as it would most creative
types. But also timeless – because like all great art, Coward’s insights, his
delightful wordplay and witty aphorisms (like those of Oscar Wilde) transcend
the fashions of the age.
So all credit to the group
for having the courage (no cowards here!) to mount such an ambitious production
off the beaten track in mid-February: not quite the height of the West End
season, you might say. The show consists of a virtual non-stop medley of
Coward’s best known songs and skits, with the company (six chaps and four
fillies) seamlessly switching roles in the twinkling of an eye.
In an evening of successive
star turns, it would be unfair to single anyone out really, because this was
not only an ensemble piece, with some singers admittedly stronger than others –
and clarity of diction more important in any case than vocal power – but also an entertainment in which teamwork
There was plenty of
experience on show, with many of the cast drawn from the legendary Sainsbury
Singers: Nigel and Kim Antell, Tricia and Chris Goodchild, Andrew Dutton, Chris
Faulkner, Nigel Wilson, Hils Latimer and Kerry Woodley; also Graham Jerome (now
approaching veteran status?) of whom more in a moment.
You would not need to be an
expert on Noel Coward (I freely admit I am not) to enjoy a right royal evening
at this show – devised by Roderick Cook and first produced in 1972, a year
before Coward went to join those ‘feathered angels’. Needless to say, it
displays all Coward’s trademarks: a romantic sensibility, cosmopolitanism,
world-weariness, acuity of social observation, ingenious wordplay, impossible
rhymes and yes, a certain well-placed snobbery.
His output was quite
prodigious. Among the ‘greatest hits’ featured here, you’d probably recognize
‘Dance Little Lady’, ‘The Stately Homes of England’, ‘Why Do The Wrong People
Travel?’, ‘Mrs Worthington’, ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’, ‘Mad About The Boy’ and
‘Some Day I’ll Find You’ – all carried off by this enthusiastic group with
gusto and aplomb.
During the half-time hiatus,
as we sucked on lemon sherbets, I mused to Chris Boott (in his producer hat)
that it must be tricky performing on the uneven stage, with the right front
corner a step lower than the rest. He explained that this was deliberate, to
add a variety of perspective (and presumably give the actors an extra
challenge). It clearly paid off when the aforementioned Mr Jerome staggered on
for a hilariously sodden rendition of ‘A Marvellous Party’ in which he kept
tripping over – almost.
It was in the second half
that the performers really hit their stride, thanks in no small measure to the
sympathetic lighting, understated staging and the kind of smooth, elegant
costumes you naturally associate with this sort of material (pun intended).
Hats off to Chris Chapman and the Bootts: director Chris and wardrobe mistress
Ange. Keeping things simple and not overly flashy worked just perfectly.
Finally, there was exactly
the right balance between words and music: the piano remained a mellifluous
background accompaniment which never drowned out the lyrics, which would have
been a disaster. In all, had Noel himself been gazing down on this humble
parish hall from his no doubt handsomely appointed cloud, he will, I think,
have been pleasantly proud.