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The Return of the Marionettes – The Tower Theatre Company

The Return of the Marionettes
picture by Robert Piwko

Just imagine. You are in a pop group and at the top of your game. Your records shoot up the chart as soon as they are released and your tours are sold out. Life is pretty awesome and everything in the proverbial garden is very rosy. But behind the scenes there is tension, rivalry and jealousy. Eventually things come to a head and the tension breaks causing a rift that lasts for not just years but decades. Can the past ever be forgotten and forgiven? This theme is explored by Peter and Phillip Ley in their new production The Return of the Marionettes.

1960s girl group sensation ‘The Marionettes’ are on stage doing their last show before Christmas and sounding fantastic as they sing their newest recording. Lead singer Cathy Jackson (Angharad Ormond) is giving it all she has got and the rest of the group Mary Miller (Fiorella Osborne), Veronica Meltzer (Olivia Barton-Fisher) and Evelyn Meltzer (Jessica O’Toole) look as if they are having a great time – or are they? As the song reaches its climax, Mary runs off stage, closely followed by the Meltzer sisters leaving Cathy to take the final bow alone. Fast forward twenty years and ‘The Marionettes’ manager George Ellis (Brad Johnson) has achieved the seemingly impossible and arranged for the group to do a special reunion show at the same theatre where they originally broke up. Time waits for no-one and the girls – Mary (Annette Ross, Veronica (Deborah Ley) and Evelyn (Annemarie Fearnley) – are now ladies of a certain age and are looking forward to reuniting with Cathy (Stella Henney) once more, when she arrives. Also at the reunion is Laurie Brown (Haidee Elise) best friends with the three girls and an original member of the group – before being replaced by record executive Alan Tyrell (Julian Farrance). Outside amongst the huge crowd are dedicated – possibly mildly stalkerish – No 1 fans of the group Terry (Jonathan Wober) and wife Tippi (Liz Mittler) who have followed the group from their early days as the Moonbeams. The stage is set and the curtain is about to rise on the reunion of the century. How will it all turn out?

The Tower Theatre Company has a reputation for putting on really good shows and The Return of the Marionettes is definitely a great addition to their repertoire. Peter and Phillip Ley have not only written a really nice story but have also penned eighteen new songs to really bring the tale alive. The music is great and very reminiscent of the style of songs that were the staple of girl groups in the 60’s. There were two parts of the story I really liked. Firstly having the two sets of actresses playing The Marionettes was a marvelous idea, enabling the older girls to act as witnesses to their younger selves. While we are on this subject, the matching of actresses playing the young and old versions of the girls was extremely well done. The other great idea was having the character of George not be played by two actors, giving a lovely sense of continuity between the group of the 1960’s and the girls of the 1980’s. All told the production is really very well done and Director Phillip Ley gets the audience in the right mood from the time they enter the auditorium as the exuberant Terry and Tippi come through looking for their seats and telling other audience members about The Marionettes and their devotion to them. The two actors manages to be enthusiastic without ever stepping over the line into annoying as they talk to the audience.

The action takes place on the stage of the theatre where the girls will be playing and a special mention has to go to the lovely team – Michael Bettell, James McKendrick, Martin Shaw and Michael Allaway – who are not only the happiest and friendly bunch of roadies I’ve ever seen but also, along with Alison Liney, provide the biggest surprises of this fast moving production. In the centre of the stage are the six piece band under MD Colin Guthrie who provide all the musical accompaniment as well as the odd line or two and a very useful bottle of something to relieve the nerves when needed. Although there were some issues with sound on the night I saw the show, I did really enjoy it. The story is on the right side of believable and the main characters are all perfect for their setting. As I watched, I gained a real insight into each of the girls as individuals and as a supportive group. More importantly, I actually found myself caring about them and feeling happy for them when the curtain finally fell.

All told, The Return of the Marionettes was a spellbinding piece of theatre which really caught the spirit of both the sixties and the eighties in its story of the girl group that had it all then fell to pieces. I think, with a bit of work, this could become an extremely enjoyable show that could be played by amateur and professional group alike. Thoroughly enjoyable viewing.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

The Return of The Marionettes
by Peter and Phillip Ley
with Ruth Sullivan and Colin GuthrieA brand new musical! Four girls from New York City become the girl group sensation of the 60’s and their place in pop history is assured. However as jealousy and rivalry surface the group descends into chaos and eventually crumbles. Twenty years later can they recapture their sparkle as they once again take to the stage?

Following its London run, this production will be touring to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall


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