“A play should give you something to think about. When I see a play and understand it the first time, then I know it can’t be much good.” – T.S. Eliot

Parade

Sometimes, in between going to work, working, coming home from work, sleeping, food shopping, boring grown-up things (repeat ad nauseum), I do other things. Mostly, this involves sleeping some more and looking for Batman underwear, but on rare occasions? I do Culture. And this week, I did some Culture. It was awesome.

Apart from being a computer nerd,  a sci-fi geek, and a football fan, I love going to the theatre. It’s not something you’d expect from a kid who grew up in a town where girls are parents at 14 and the only thing to do on the weekends was to drink cheap cider on street corners before seeing how many hedges you could hop until you fell over/got arrested/fell asleep in old Mrs. Davies’ rose-bush.

There’s nothing like the thrill of seeing a great performer reduce the audience around you to tears with just words – no dramatic music or lighting or multi-million pound effects, just pure talent. There’s also some joy to be had in bad performances too; nothing is constant, and every performance of every show is different – exciting, I think.

This love of theatre means, Josh Hartnett and a few others excluded, I will go watch anything that holds my interest. By anyone. And so, this week, we went to see an amateur production of Jason Robert Brown’s “Parade” at the Bridewell Theatre. Although, there was hardly anything amateur about it.

I love JRB, so I’d pretty much go see a performance done by mute penguins on a spaceship circling Mars. Actually, bad example, who wouldn’t?  But you get the point.

So, anyway, Parade. It was put on by sedos, and they seem a pretty tidy group. As with all performances there are things I did and didn’t like but, ignoring the fact I can be an annual Scrooge, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Parade is a weird one; focussed around the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory supervisor (he’s Jewish, not the factory, obv.) who is accused of raping and murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan. It’s tantamount to a witch-hunt, with Leo being hung by an angry mob at the end – it’s not exactly the Gavin and Stacey of musicals, shall we say.

The set itself was pretty minimalistic which worked well; liked the use of the balcony for various scenes and not just factory-based business, but it wasn’t over-used either.  The only problem I can recall is, because of some of the set changes, the cast didn’t get applause/recognition in some places as I’m assuming the audience couldn’t tell what scenes were directly following on.

To be fair, the audience was pretty non-responsive for the majority of the show, but did give the cast the reception they deserved at the end. Maybe it’s just a side-effect of this particular show? Or, maybe like me, they were wondering if half the contents of the smoke-machine in your lungs was a bonus gift for seeing the show. I’m sure Georgia wasn’t *that* smokey, especially inside the buildings.

I’m going by the programme for who played what, so if there were understudies or pod-people on that night? They should get agents and/or publicists as they aren’t bad at this acting malarkey.

The problem with reviews is that they are very subjective; if you make a connection with one particular character or actor, it’s highly unlikely you will ever be objective or fair about the rest. Likewise, if you make no connection at all, it’ll all be very formulaic and technical and boring in the way three years of studying theatre practice from a book are.

So this is going to be the former, because there were a few people who stood out as being spectacular.

The first of these was James Franey – which was a relief really, since he was playing Leo Frank. Although I found some of his acting a little too bland on one or two occasions, there was no faulting his vocal ability – not only the power and the range, but his ability to act through his singing. It’s a hard thing to do, and it was nice to see someone do it so well.

Likewise Ben Fuiava, taking the stage as chain gang escapee Jim Conley, had a phenomenal voice. He also seemed vaguely familiar, and if I manage to go see some old CODA friends this December I look forward to his performance in Little Shop.

Performer of the show, though, was most definitely Paul Wooller. His Frankie Epps was brilliant; childish, young, naive anger when Mary dies … excellent. And his voice? Why this kid is not already on the West End stage I have no idea.

Lucille Frank (Pippa Lloyd), Governor Slaton (Chris de Pury) and Hugh Dorsey (Jason Thomas) were all good too but, as I mentioned before, none of them really struck a similar chord and so whilst they were good, I can’t recall anything particular about their performances that I thought was a cut above the rest.

To be honest, the only things that let it down for me were those playing Britt Craig (William Hazell) and Tom Watson (Stephen Beeny); the former was a little too over-the-top at being over-the-top during ‘Big News’ and, the latter … I just didn’t get anything from his character. I’m pretty sure you were meant to hate him, or feel something, but I just thought he was the weakest link. A shame, really, as he seemed more interesting during the ensemble performances.

I had much love for the orchestra; sometimes they drowned the performers out a little, but they were ridiculously good; I’m not sure how much time these guys get to rehearse together, but everything the played sounded effortless and old-hat.

They didn’t, however, drown out the ensemble – who should be brought to the attention of Uncle Cameron* immediately, because some of his shows have ensembles who can only dream of performing on this level (FYI: just because you are on the stage in a big fancy musical? Doesn’t mean I would ever want to spend money to have my ears violated like that again). In sync, in tune and perfectly balanced … this is where I am starting to think my pod-people reference wasn’t so weird after all.

With the wealth of West End talent on my doorstep (not literally, obviously, my job doesn’t pay that well), I keep forgetting that there are perfectly great Am-Dram groups in the area – above average, some might say, as there are more ex-performers/aspiring actors in the big City. So consider me thoroughly chastised and determined to scope out a few more groups tucked away in the corners of London.

(*Sir Cameron Mackintosh isn’t really my uncle, although I’m sure he’s somebody’s uncle,  it’s just a phrase that somehow happened once – it’s a long story, dont ask. Mostly because I don’t remember.)

About Stackee

All you need is love. Well, that, and ice cream, beaches, Sci-Fi and pi(e). Perhaps water too.
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