A year to the day since the last one, in the same auditorium as the last one, with the same two Jays as the last one, this was the second production I have seen by Lizi Patch and Dick Bonham and their colleagues at City Varieties Youth Theatre. I still cannot understand why it is called City Varieties Youth Theatre when the performances are at the Grand Theatre, but never mind.
The performance was preceded by an announcement by Lizi herself about the show. She said that it would be different from ‘Valentine’ (last year’s) in being a mixture of short acts, rather than a complete play. She also said it was intended to extend and deepen skills which members of the company had said they wanted to work on. It was therefore partly a work in progress. The audience was entirely supportive towards this. Though I don’t know any of the members of the cast, the atmosphere was something like a school play in the sense that one found oneself wanting everything to go right, or at least, if it was not to go right, for it to go wrong constructively and in a way that the players could cope with. Like last year, members of the cast who were not on stage sat on bench-seats on each side of the auditorium, and watched the performance. This slight blurring of the distinction between audience and performers tended to strengthen the feeling of solidarity. During a winter of austerity, this was conducive to the kind of theatre experience that stays with you for a long time after you have seen the spectacle.
The first half was compered by two members of the company. They were of incongruously differing heights: a tall older, girl (Sophie Suttle-Marshall) and a short, younger boy (Sam Epstein-Graves), both wearing formal attire including black, brimmed hats. The boy was the same as the “mischievously enthusiastic” one in the “fetching brown overall” I mentioned in last December’s review of ‘Valentine’. He had grown a few inches, but lost nothing of his impishness, nor his voice projection. I am delighted to see more people with double-barrelled names getting on in show business.
There certainly was a variety of acts, including dance, singing, and drama, both scripted and improvised. The musical director was Rich Huxley. The show was worth the ticket price just for Rich Huxley’s acoustic guitar playing, which was full of power, feeling and virtuosity. Like last year, the fit between the performances on stage and the musical accompaniment was perfect.
The most memorable moment in the first half was when Jackson Waite and Sam Epstein-Graves got in muddle over their lines, and had to have a prompt after what my late father would have called “an interval for reflection”.
In the second half, the compering was taken over by Holly Blain-Rodman and Jacob Gale.
The choreography was by Emma Stead, who herself performed a burlesque dance, which was about as raunchy as you could get but still be appropriate in a show for young people.
If I had seen the programme before the show started, I might have been a bit apprehensive. Some of the acts were songs from musicals (I hate musicals) and two of them were from the work of Michael Jackson (I think Michael Jackson is one of the world’s great over-rateds) but I enjoyed every piece. The final act, a packed stage dancing to ‘Thriller’ produced a tumultuous ending, and meant the audience left with the blood pounding in their temples.
I give this show 10 out of 10 for music, 10 out of 10 for singing and dance, and 9 out of 10 for acting. Some of the acting was too “acted”, but the point of the show was to showcase skills and learn things, and so I am not complaining.
For concept – the fact that there is no technology used at all, except a couple of radio mics – I give this 11 out of 10. For the promise it brings to our theatre and our cultural life for the future, I also give it 11 out of 10.