HAVING seen nothing but post-war musicals so far this season, it was a pleasant change to go to the Public Hall, Witham, on Tuesday to enjoy Witham Operatic and Dramatic Society's presentation of Lionel Monckton’s "Quaker Girl" writes Peter Andrews.
The music and plot have a timeless charm which make them as acceptable today as when they first were heard on the London stage 50 years ago. As the Quaker Girl. June Gilbey gives a performance which underlines the sweet naivety of the character. Special praise is due for her convincing ungainliness in the dancing lesson sequence, in which she exhibits a fine sense of stagecraft, and her impeccable diction.
Eric Knight, as Tony Chute of the American embassy in Paris, plays with a convincing accent and an engaging brashness of personality throughout the evening. The part of Princess Mathilde is taken with distinction by Pauline Hanford, although her singing is marred by some uncertainty of intonation in the top register. As her husband Captain Charteris, Timothy Sheppard acts with an easy confidence of manner, although his voice is rather light for a musical comedy lead.
Two good comedy performances come from Patricia Vojak as Phoebe and Brian Etheridge as Jeremiah. An interpolated verse of local topical significance in their act 3 duet is very neatly brought off.
Kathleen Richards gives a basically good characterisation as Madame Blum, but overworks her top register. Other good performances come from Peter Groom as a sinister chief of police, and Maisie Lawrence as Diane, a Parisian actress. Jack Wilsher sings the part of Prince Carlo with aplomb, but does not bring out the lechery in the character.
The well controlled accompaniment was directed by Cecil Barker and the dances are arranged by Iris Muirhead.
BETTER AND BETTER
David Walker's production improves in each act. In act one the contrast between the mocking villagers and the solemn Quakers is not sufficiently marked. In act 2, there is a great improvement in bite and attack, and the start of act 3 fully deserved its round of applause on Tuesday evening not only for the beauty of the "3-D" set, but also for the stylish presentation of the champagne ballet.
Leonard Simmons, Betty Rew, Frederick Gisby, Herbert Cook, Ann Booth, Maureen Walford, David Lawrence and Jack Gozzett complete the cast.
Chorus: Margaret Binley, Ann Booth, Maisie Burrows, Wilhelmina Cook. Betty Etheridge, Nesta Hinchcliffe, Jane Jones, Joan Lyon, Ruth Miller, Olive Moody, Sheila Moore, Betty Rew, Grace Rose, Daphne Rushen, Anne Sheppard, Frances Tait, Norah Thorogood, Dorothy Trollope. Maureen Walford. Olive Wheaton. Edith Willis. Herbert Cook. Charles Eastbrook. Percy Gager. Frederick Gisby, Peter Linnett, Geoffrey Moore. John Morley, Leonard Simmons. George Trollope, Jack Wilsher, and David Lawrence.
There will be further performances this (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) evenings.
“The Quaker Girl” is a vintage musical which retained all its sparkle in the hands of the Witham Musical and Operatic Society at their opening night on Monday.
A good pace was set from the start and well maintained throughout the long opening act, which is a tribute to the producer, David Walker and his team of musical director, Cecil Barker, chorus master, Jack Wilsher, and the choreography of Iris Muirhead.
Jt is also a reflection of the intense keenness of the cast which characterised the entire production. They were all so obviously enjoying themselves and this is the magic ingredient of success in such productions.
The story lends itself to some interesting opportunities for contrast; the uninhibited country folk with the Quakers; the same folk with the French Visitors, and an American thrown in.
The switch to a French environment in acts two and three is abrupt and a little homesick-making at first, until all the well-established and loved characters from act one, reappear like long-lost friends.
The great appeal lay in the high standard set by each pair of principal characters. Prudence and Tony, played by June Gilbey and Eric Knight, about share the honours with Princess Mathilde and Captain Charteris, played by Pauline Hanford and Timothy Sheppard, very good in parts, but he must frequently powder off his make-up which was very shiny and blotchy under the strong top lights.
Pauline Hanford, who has recently come to Witham, gave us a most attractive princess, with a sweet and finely-trained voice. We shall look forward to seeing her and hearing her again.
Jeremiah and Phoebe were deservedly popular with the audience. The former, played by Brian Etheridge, was a figure of natural fun throughout. and Patricia Vojak’s Phoebe was full of life and vitality.
Kathleen Richards was so good as Madame Blum; just her part, bubbling like champagne and arranging everybody's affairs (and "affaires”) to a happy conclusion. One remembers also the fine voice of Prince Carlo, played by Jack Wilsher, and the nicely-judged Monsieur Larose of Peter Groom.
All those who played the smaller principal characters, backed up the action to the full and helped to make this such a well-rounded performance.
The chorus work was generally fair. These are difficult choruses at times for amateurs. More attack from the female voice, will come as the week progresses. This is not a show which gives much opportunity for the dancers, but what there was, very neatly done.
Finally, the fullest of full marks to the orchestra which, for once, knew just when to let the audience hear the singers, and when to help the chorus work.
If there are any seats left for Friday and Saturday don't miss them.
A. C. GODDARD
Go and see it at Witham
TIME: NOT THE PRESENT.
This is the disarming entry in the programme of the Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society. Certainly, as the seventeenth century Quakers tangle with a nineteenth century Bonapartist princess in an early twentieth century setting, any historian would be baffled.
But who looks for sense in a musical?
" The Quaker Girl" is a delightful show of its kind, and those who go to the Public Hall this week will certainly enjoy it. The dances are simple but are very neatly executed, especially by the Quaker girl and her Tony from America. Every one of the principals has excellent diction so that the words come over crisp and clear. And everyone has a pleasant stage personality.
Brian Etheridge gives a droll and lively performance as Jeremiah, a comic who seems to have strayed in from pantomime. Timothy Sheppard makes a likeable hero, and Pauline Hanford is pretty and tuneful as his Princess Mathilde.
The best material is given to, Prudence and Tony. As Prudence, June Gilbey has a clear singing voice, acts well, and contrives to be sweet and simple without being sugary. Eric Knight is nimble, brisk and humorous as the American, Tony. Nor must one forget Patricia Vojak, who plays with splendid attack the part of Phoebe, the English country girl turned lady's maid. Weaker as an actor but far the best singer in the cast is Jack Wilsher. He and the chorus he has trained rise to the big number, "Come to the Ball," with great effect.
The lavish production, by David Walker, has some weaknesses. Two, or three entrances are muddled. Make-up is unflattering, and so is the harsh and fidgety spot-lighting from perch positions. It must be admitted, too, that the French accents are far from convincing. The show starts with the usual unintelligible opening chorus and some dull dialogue, but after that it gathers momentum and we are carried along; through a delightful score by Cecil Barker's orchestra and an accomplished group of singers.
It all has a very pleasant tonic effect, and even those who made wry faces after "Grab Me A Gondola" may take a dose of this sweeter mixture with every confidence that it will do them good.