It’s probably unfair to compare a student summer showcase production with one done recently at the famed Donmar Warehouse, but I simply can’t desist from saying that the Trinity Laban production achieves pretty much the same effect, without nearly the same amount of scenery and props. The Blackheath Halls stage is a substantial one, and while the production does well to make the performance space (which spills out on to the floor, where tables and chairs are located) as small as it is required to be – such as a scene in an ‘elevator’ (as our American friends call it), there are other moments when the title character, Charity Hope Valentine (May Tether at the performance I attended, sharing the role with Elsa-Grace Wakefield) must command the stage alone. Thankfully, this Charity rises to the challenge and triumphs.
Watching this company bring this story to life, one is reminded of how relatively common the narrative is in the grand scheme of things. Who doesn’t, particularly in the United States where the American Dream is still prevalent, want a better life for themselves? Any musical theatre ‘I wish’ song you can think of are cases in point. But one is also reminded of how relatively few bells and whistles are needed to take the audience on this journey, when the book, music and lyrics are strong enough to do a lot of the storytelling work.
That is not to say there isn’t pushing and pulling – there is, and the production is slick enough to still have bits of set being moved even as the storyline continues. The choreography (Steven Harris) is a departure from the signature Bob Fosse style, and while it may not be exquisitely pristine and perfect, this appears to be quite deliberate, portraying how exhausted dance hall hostesses would perform, cajoled to continue by venue operator Herman (Zak Robinson) under regular threat of being replaced by fresh blood.
And then there is the overture, played with the curtains closed and nothing else to look at, by an eleven-piece orchestra led by Nathan Jarvis. A pity, then, that audiences no longer (here or elsewhere, generally speaking) listen to overtures quickly, continuing their conversations until they are effectively cut off by the opening lyrics of the opening number. There are a lot of peripheral characters in this show – Daddy (Ejiro Richmond) appears for one song, ‘Rhythm of Life’, for instance, and while the actor can be seen elsewhere, he is playing someone else. Especially for any agents who may have attended this production, it’s a good way to witness the versatility of ensemble members as well as the more central characters.
Charity herself goes through a wide range of emotions and expressions, from exhilaration to heartbreak, and while she is very expressive, she never crosses over into melodrama. Oscar (James Dodd at the performance I attended, sharing the role with Chesney Fawkes-Porter), her eventual love interest, displays quite ridiculous and irrational feelings, which may have been laughed at when Sweet Charity first opened on Broadway in 1966 – perhaps not so much now that understanding of mental health and psychological issues is more advanced. Indeed, there is a certain sensitivity about him that makes him incredibly watchable these days. But as some things change about the show, others remain constant – as ever, there are some beautiful melodies to enjoy, including ‘Big Spender’ and ‘I Love to Cry at Weddings’.
It is difficult, when a company enjoys itself as much as this one does, to pick out stand-out performances, but Millie Cranston makes good work of the rather fickle and demanding (and thus dislikeable) Ursula, while Thomas Ibbs as Vidal (sharing the role with Evan Blanque) is suitably suave and stylish as a confident and wealthy movie star. All things considered, it was an assured and affectionate show.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Sweet Charity follows the hopes and loves of Charity Hope Valentine, “a girl who just wants to be loved”.
Charity is a taxi-dancer and a dance partner-for-hire at a seedy dance hall in New York City and although the job may be decidedly undesirable, Charity’s hopeful romanticism and unfailing optimism lift her out of her circumstances and help her reach for a life beyond.
When she meets Oscar, a neurotic shy actuary seemingly from another world, will she finally find true love at last?
Director Charlotte Westenra
Musical Director Nathan Jarvis
Choreographer Steven Harris
Set/Costume Designer Amy Yardley
Lighting Designer Hartley T A Kemp
Assistant Designer Pollyanna Elston
Costume Supervisor Cristiano Casimiro
Sound Designer Chris Tanton
Sound 2 Iain Audsley
Stage Manager Sophie Stoddart
Deputy Stage Manager Sarah Rhodes-Cannings
Production Electrician Jake Rowe
Lighting Programmer Chris May
Production Sound Paul Gavin / Purple Sheep
Dance Captains Catriona Scott & Thomas Ibbs
Followspot1 Niall Jarvis
Followspot2 Jo Nead
Assistant Musical Director Jan Guthrie
With special thanks to Dave Kerry and Jamie Asquith.
Keyboard 1 Nathan Jarvis
Keyboard 2 Jan Guthrie
Guitar Jack Pennifold
Bass Stephen Street
Drums/Percussion Tom Plumridge
Reed 1 Christina Alishaw
Reed 2 Catherine Underhill
Reed 3 Ellie Marsh
Trumpet 1 Stanislaw Swiatkowski
Trumpet 2 Ethan McInerney
Trombone Matilda Ashe-Belton
Charity May Tether* / Elsa-Grace Waterfield**
Nickie Katie Ramshaw* / Molly Amelia Jenkins**
Helene Enya Loughlin* / Shannon Whittle**
Vidal Thomas Ibbs* / Evan Blanque**
Oscar James Dodd* / Chesney Fawkes-Porter**
Daddy’s Assistant Naomi Joy Anderson
Daddy’s Assistant Sophie Clarke
Ursula Millie Cranston
Daddy Ejiro Richmond
Margery Eimear Friel
Carmen Catriona Scott
Charlie Dark Glasses Christopher Jeffery
Rosie Kira MacCarter
Doorman Brandon Marinas
Herman Zak Robinson
Betsy Emma Roscoe
*Friday Matinee & Saturday Evening
**Friday Evening & Saturday Matinee
All other parts played by members of the company.
FRI 21 JUN 14.30 & 19.30
SAT 22 JUN 14.30 & 19.30