Last Updated on 22nd September 2016
That Man (Workshop Performance)
20 September 2016
If anyone loves the music of Caro Emerald, then they’ll love That Man, a feast of her songs presented in a dramatic context. If anyone does not know her music, or has yet to be persuaded of its merits, then they will be enchanted by the delicious performances given by a cast of 10 in this production, supported by a smart 4-piece band and MD Iain Vince-Gatt. Wendy Gill had the great idea to put together a collection of her numbers and showcase them in a story, and over the past few years, she has been developing a script that does just this, in conjunction with director Paul Boyd. Now, Wendy has produced a week-long Arts Council funded development of her original concept, and Paul has directed the narrative for the little stage of the Matcham Room, and Anthony Whiteman has choreographed the musical numbers. Yesterday, the whole thing was shown twice: first to an invited industry audience, and then to the public at large, who filled the 150-seater and warmly appreciated the delights on offer.
The principal focus over the 80-minutes or of playing time was the score of 17 songs. These were put over at 3 fixed 40s-style microphones at the front of the stage by a terrific cast. Although Paul Boyd is credited as ‘director’, all the musical numbers were delivered in ‘concert performance’ from these fixed positions. Sabrina Aloueche as the lead Argentinian, Rosa, trying to make her way in 1950s London nightclub, The Flamingo, which is where all the characters cross paths; Rhiannon Chesterman, a sprightly ingénue of Susan; Treyc Cohen, much more soulful as the cleaner, Grace, who sees through the shenanigans of the white folks and does everything possible to help them; Scott Cripps, a surprisingly pleasant city trader, Chas; Kate England, the resident star of the Flamingo, Kasha, whose position is threatened by the rising fortunes of Rosa; Christopher Howell, as Raymond, another very likeable city trader, who lives at home with his invalid mother and cannot attract a partner, much less the child he requires to inherit mummy’s fortune; Jonny Labey, a ne’er-do-well rogue and apparently a stranger to prophylactics; Colette Lennon as Barbara is 50’s wedlock personified – we attend her wedding early in the first half, and see her abandon work for the manual drudgery of the home; Olive Robinson and Toyan Thomas-Browne provided some very attractively flashy moves in the dancing ensembles; and the voice of David James spoke the part of Gus, American supremo of said nightclub, the Flamingo. Many of these characters and their situations will seem familiar from stories from the era.
All of the characters sing to us the songs of the Caro Emerald songbook, and here that means 13 different writers, who are – it must always be remembered – the very, very best in the commercial recording world. Here, responding to Caro’s trademark retro-50’s chic, they respond with works that convince as near-pastiche of period goods, and also present her fascinating voice (a mix of Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, perhaps) to the very best effect. While the number of writers might create a feeling of many voices talking against each other, they are splendidly unified by the highly distinctive and unusual vocal qualities of the singer.
Wendy Gill was attracted by that voice. Here, however, in this dramatic representation of some of her catalogue, we do not get that particular unifying principle. Instead, we rely upon Gill to create a coherent whole out of the many different voices and moods illustrated by the relatively large number of characters, many of them singing the work of different creative talents. This presents a very particular set of challenges. We can look to other, similar shows, like ‘Mamma Mia’ (a show Gill has herself not yet seen, I believe), and see a miraculously successful solution to a less complicated problem: but with that show, we also recall, there are only two writers at work, Benny and Bjorn. Not so here. Gill has an enormously difficult task in melding the numerous creative voices and styles, and at present – possibly – there is still a way to go before that process is completely followed through.
Nonetheless, this was delicious entertainment from the cast, who acquitted themselves magnificently well, especially when one reflects that they had had just one week to learn, rehearse and perfect the scripts, music, lyrics and choreography for the whole show. Not for nothing is the UK famous for the quality of its musical theatre artists: these people made this a star cast to remember.
Production photos: Darren Bell