The Drowsy Chaperone
Palace Theatre, Southend
Wednesday 8th May 2013
The set is ideal in its simplicity, depicting the man's apartment complete with fireplace, kitchen and armchair, with any additional items required by The Drowsy Chaperone wheeled on within the action. The lighting design is more theatrical, matching closer to the style of the imagined musical, but also with a lovely effect through the patio doors. The staging of the aviatrix scene works ideally, with a clever plane effect created smoothly within the scene. The sound is nicely done too, with a difficult transition between record player effect into live band right at the opening handled with very slick timing.
The show is a parody of the 1920s "hammy" vaudeville style, full of glamour and over-acting, and under the able direction of Helen Sharpe the cast seem to relish in the challenges of the genre. With a long list of principals spread throughout the show, this is a great choice to give a leading opportunity to a larger than usual number of members. Although there is not room to mention them all individually, I will choose some highlights from a hard-working and talented ensemble cast.
Young starlet, and the bride in The Drowsy Chaperone Janet van de Graaff, is played by the glamorous Kathy Clarke whose pretty voice and dainty moves suit the character well, especially in the exhausting "Show Off" number. David Shipman plays her leading man and groom Robert Martin with a constant cheesy grin, handling the skates and blindfold with ease. He also does a particularly impressive job of the tap routine alongside talented dancer Matthew Ford, who plays frantic best man George. Dotty dowager Mrs Tottendale is characterised to ditsy perfection by an excellent Dani de Gregorio, with her butler Underling performed comically straight by a composed Paul Ward. The title character is played with aplomb by Samantha Gourley, who staggers about the stage with a drowsy elegance, and maintains a wonderful expression while being seduced. Her seducer Aldolpho is characterised hilariously by Andrew Seal, tongue firmly in his cheek as he struts about the stage pouting and posing at every opportunity. An exceptional young talent too in Lily-May Byfield, whose dancing stands out amongst a very good dance ensemble, and whose powerful singing voice makes her performance as Trix particularly memorable.
The performance of the night however can only go to the fabulous "Man in Chair", Peter Brown. Peter played this part as though it had been written for him, winning the audience over immediately with his warm characterisation and engaging style. On stage throughout, although rarely the focus, he maintained his character constantly and by the final scene, where the performers of his beloved musical welcomed him to the stage, he had melted our hearts. A difficult part to judge, played excellently by a talented actor.
The very antithesis of accessible, with in-jokes galore, this is a musical designed directly for musical theatre aficionados, and it may well leave those who do not consider themselves connoisseurs of the art form somewhat bemused. However, for those of us who recognise themselves in the character of "Man in Chair", it is a warm hug of familiarity and affection. Well done to LODS for giving this excellent musical another outing.