IT'S not often one comes across claques for individual performers in the amateur theatre, yet on the opening night of Witham Operatic Society’s production of Lehar's “ Gipsy Love,” at the Public Hall, both Kathleen Richards and Tim Sheppard had their bands of supporters in the audience. While not arguing the case in principle for or against such claques, I must record in this case that both artists thoroughly deserved their applause, for theirs were the smoothest and most polished performances from a company apparently suffering from a worse than usual attack of ﬁrst night nerves.
My individual Oscar must go (but only just) to Kathleen Richards for an effortlessly controlled performance as Lady Phoebe, a highly eligible widow who gets her man in the end. Tim Sheppard so successfully assumes the role of a middle-aged parent quite ready to compete with his daughters to see who gets to the altar ﬁrst, that it's difﬁcult to realise that it’s only three years ago since we saw him playing the youthful lead in the "Quaker Girl." It was no accident on Monday that both Kathleen and Tim had a hand in the two numbers that had the most zip and sparkle, “Wild Wild" and “ Lucky Us."
Another good comedy performance is turned in by Tom McQuiston as Oswald Oliphant but Patricia Vojak as his fiancée pitches her speaking lines too much on one note. Claire Short as Dilaia produces the best singing of the show, while Grace Rose makes the role of Kathy an effective and appealing one.
The romantic leads are in the hands of Pauline Hanford and Jack Wilsher, both of whom I feel have done better work for the Society than this.
As Antonio, a romantic gipsy rogue, Brian Gennings improved on Monday after a very uncertain start, but his make-up, or lack of it, and this applies to all the gipsy members of the cast—spoi1s the credibility of his appearance.
Also in the cast are Matsie Lawrence, Ralph Hepworth, Michael Murton, Roger Bentall and Peter Groom. Producer David Walker clumps his east around the stage in solid groups, while the orchestra is directed by Cecil Barker.
To sum up: This is an enjoyable production if not one of the society's vintage efforts due in part to the choice of Operetta which by Lehar standards is a bit sort of really ﬁrst rate melodies.
But if the cast and orchestra can perform with that extra bit of snap and sparkle I am sure they will draw a rich dividends in the shape of increased audience reaction.
Ladies.-Sandra Blake-Lobb, Pat Collins, Ricky Deadman, Betty Etheridge, Margaret Hill. Nesta Hinchcliffe. Janis Hoare, Avril Howe, Hilary Howell, Patricia Jones, Cynthia Joslin, Joan Lawson, Joan Lyon, Sheila Moore, Rita Page, Maureen Poulter, Maureen Revett, Jennifer Ruggles, Jane Scott, Anne Sheppard, Jackie Thorogood, Olive Wheaton.
Dancers: Hilary Gunson, Mary Holliday, Julia Izard. Penny Kingston. Nina Rice. Carole Rice, Monica Rice.
Gent1cmen of the Chrous: Paul Ainsley, Michael Henry. Ron Howe, Rupert Kingston, Geoffrey Moore, Paul Richards. Tom Ryder. Simon Sherrard, Don Walford.
WITHAM -Musical and Amateur Operatic Society continue to cash in handsomely on what P. G. Wodehouse termed “The Nostalgia Trade”. This time they have dug up a mid-Victorian romance called “Gipsy Love" whose chief merit is that it contains some lilting melodies by Franz Lehar.
Producer David Walker, I know, was doing his best to tart up the rather bald and unconvincing narrative with many ingenious gimmicks as, although rewritten, the "book" still remains something of a museum piece.
Now, having said all this, I found to my surprise, the proud flag of the society still flying high at the Public Hall on the crowded opening night; the vocal standard was exceptionally good; the stage pictures delightful; the speaking voices incisive and clear; and if Cecil Barker was engaged in a bit of a wrestle with his orchestra it was obvious that he would get them all down for the count in a very short time.
Who better to play the beautiful, wayward Miranda, who ran off with a gipsy, than Pauline Hanford, never in better voice? Newcomer Brian Gennings, as Antonio the gipsy in question, was just the sort of chap any impulsive girl would leave home for. Antonio's "steady" at the gipsy encampment is Dilaia, played by Claire Short, and she gave us a brilliant exposition of voice control in Act ll. Much to my disappointment, Ralph Hepworth was not required to bring his splendid singing voice to the theatre but, as the “heavy father" he revealed how very much his acting has improved. In fact, his remarkable resemblance to Lord Nelson would seem to imply that there is a future for him in historical drama!
This production was notable for the return of Kathleen Richards to the ‘Witham stage. Once again, she demonstrated her ability to lift any scene in which she plays, well out of the rut. That charming and vivacious soubrette, Patricia Vojak, has acquired a new partner, Tom Mcquiston, who displayed a facility for Buster Keaton-like comedy.
Tim Sheppard worked furiously to extract the very last drop of humour from the part of the alliterative eccentric Sir Peregrine and, as his valet, Michael Merton advanced yet another step towards stardom. Joined by Grace Rose, as Kathy, the performers in charge of comedy took part in a riotous romp entitled “Wild, Wild” which deserved unlimited encores.
Chorus master Jack Wilsher was well equipped vocally to tackle the thankless part of Miranda's fiancee, and Matsie Lawrence was quite outstanding as a composed and digniﬁed Gipsy Queen. Peter Groom, as the innkeeper, managed both his pub and the gipsies with ease and authority, and Roger Bentall dropped in from Braintree for a few minutes to show just how a character could be established in that short space -of time.
Those brave girls in the chorus who were at pains to give some indication of the picturesque squalor of gipsy life were worthy of praise. There were others, however, who gave the impression that the hedgerows from which they were supposed to have sprung were furnished with all mod cons. A few dirty, bare-footed urchins to turn the odd cartwheel| would have been more in the picture than the demure well turned-out dancing girls on view.
The chorus work generally was trite and uninspired with a lamentable lack of abandon. No doubt this will be corrected as the week wears on and the show will culminate in the customary ‘blaze of glory’ on Saturday night.
The programme, although it gives all necessary information, is still too dear at a bob. I think the Prices and Incomes Board should do something about it!
SUPPOSING that a critic does not enjoy a romantic musical show. On what grounds can he criticise it?
Hardly because, it is not plausible, or socially significant, or "contemporary," or thought-provoking. It may not pretend to be any of these things.
Yet there may be sound reasons for his dissatisfaction, and they come down to questions of style. When the content is absurd, the style is all that holds a show together.
I am afraid that I found "Gypsy Love" absurd, and last week's presentation by the Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society far from stylish. There has been a sad decline from the days when Gilbert Sutcliffe galvanised the company in shows like "The Boy Friend" and "Grab Me A Gondola." Visually, "Gypsy Love" hovered uneasily between England and Transylvania and between 1780 and 1900. As dramatic writing, the lovers' parts were pure corn, and the comic father's was imitation of P.G. Wodehouse. Even the score, put together by Ronald Hamner from the music of Franz Lehar, was lacking in charm. Of course, there was enjoyment to be had last week, and no doubt many hundreds were pleased with their entertainment.
Pauline Hanford made a pretty heroine, after the school of Evelyn Laye, and she sang well although her lower register was rather weak. Brian Gennings (Antonio) made splendid, forthright use of a manly voice, as did Ralph Hepworth. (Lord Lyell) and Peter Groom (innkeeper). Patricia Vojak, though, tiresomely squeaky, gave a lively soubrette performance, and Tom McQuiston was amusing as her reluctant suitor.
Tim Sheppard worked hard to get some fun out of Sir Peregrine Plomley. Kathleen Richards supported him well. The comedy numbers by these players, like "Wild, Wild" and "Lucky Us," showed the best work of the producer (David Walker) and the choreographer (Iris Muirhead).
As Dilaia, Claire Short displayed a beautiful voice. But unfortunately she looked less like a dangerous gypsy than a thoroughly nice English housewife, The same aura hung about the inhibited Chorus. Only a brutal transformation of their hairstyles, make-up. Costume, movement and dancing could have justified all the talk about" wild" 'and "primitive" gypsy love. It just did not ring true in Witham.