“FREE AS AIR" is a great big box of chocolates, decorated with pretty faces and tied up with ribbon. If you have a sweet tooth it is right up your street Witham Operatic Society, continuing their long-playing record, present this rather soft-centre frolic with all the resources of an expert company. Derek Collins’ skilled direction makes the contents of the box very palatable indeed and musical director Jack Wilsher does his best with a somewhat attenuated orchestra.
Most of -the action takes place beneath a cloudless sky on an island by-passed by the rat-race. Pat Harris, as Molly the unsophisticated belle of the Island, shares top feminine honours with Pauline Hanford, as Geraldine the poised, cool, beautiful heiress from the mainland. The contrast is delightful and they sing and act with distinction.
Tim Sheppard, suitably streamlined as a racing motorist should he, makes a new impact as an accomplished light comedian and Don Walker, as Lord of the Manor, squeezes as much fun as he can from the quiet humour of the piece. In the tenor lead. Don Miller as the "reserved” bookish hero who gets his girl in the end, sings agreeably but could well use a little more voice in conversation.
Edward Maltby (Bindweed) and Richard Enﬁeld (Boatman) are sound and conﬁdent in heavy character while two young men, Tom Payton (Mr Mutch) and Lawrence Wood (Gregory) show great promise in character roles also.
Rim Page, too, catches the eye as a hard-boiled woman reporter and, as a welcome antidote to all the sweet-stuff, three acid drops in the persons of Richard Rayment, Bert Bright and Fred Wells liven up the proceedings late in the evening. As three reporters, they perform a slick sharp-shooting song and dance number aimed at Geraldine as she moves gracefully about the stage.
But for the genuine, spellbinding stuff of the theatre commend me to Derek Collins in his tiny stud of old age and Kathleen Richards (Miss Cattermole) Their duet, "We're holding Hands" was near perfection in miniature and we were unwilling to let them go.
The chorus were described in the programme as “Islanders, Mechanics and Supporters." They looked to me like most attractive, good-looking girls full of vitality and charm and stalwart, uninhibited chaps thoroughly enjoying themselves. The show was well staged thanks to old timer Jack Hawkes and the artistic lighting effects proved that Bob Rew has lost none of his cunning.
HATS off to the William Musical and Amateur Operatic Society for choosing the most unjustly neglected British musical of the last 20 years, Julian Slade's " Free As Air,” full of lovely lilting melodies to delight the heart and set the feet a-tapping
I would have lifted my hat still higher on Tuesday if Derek Collins’ production was just that little lighter and neater, if the cast could have thrown off some of the lethargy earlier than towards the end of the ﬁrst set, and if the orchestra under Jack Wilsher could at times achieved I more discreet balance.
But those criticisms apart, there in a lot to enjoy at the Public Hall this week with the duet "Holding Hands" between Mr. Collins and Kathleen Richards, who makes a triumphant return to stage as Miss Catamole, as the highlight being a superb blend of pathos, coyness and humour.'
Tim Sheppard, as an amorous racing driver and Pat Harris as Molly always upgrade the show whenever they are on the stage while Pauline Hanford brings a wealth of experience to the role of the heiress.
Tom Payton, although too youthful looking as Mr. Mutch shows considerable promise. Don Walker is a creditable but uneven Lord Porteous and Don Miller conscientiously tackles the unrewarding role of Albert
WHEN my grandchildren are visiting amateur drama productions 30 or 40 years from now I wonder if the groups will still be giving shows like, " Free As Air." which Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society is presenting at the Public Hall this week. Or will shows like “Hair" and “Canterbury Tales" have filtered down to the amateur circuits by then?
I shall be an old age pensioner: I wonder if my foot will be tapping to "Aquarius” as I gently pat my wife's hand, gaze tenderly into her wrinkled eyes and mutter: "Ah, they don't write songs like that anymore!"
I doubt it. Come rain, shine, Chairman Mao or son of Harold Wilson, there will still be a ready audience for " Dorothy," " The Geisha," “The Maid of the Mountains," or “Wild Violets," If they drop the bomb and part of Witham becomes detached you can be certain that out of the dust and din you'll hear the strains of something like" Free As Air."
The story is slight, the music unremarkable, the characters incredible but a large audience enjoyed itself. The production was lively, some particularly good chorus work being in evidence although I thought the girls' dresses were made of a very,' drab-patterned material.
MolIy (Pat Harris) was very good. This was a lively, punchy performance, just what is required for a musical. Pauline Hanford brought some credibility to the impossible character of Geraldine, the heiress, and moved and sang very charmingly.
The finest team acting came from Derek Collins and Kathleen Richards as Mr. Potter and Miss Catamole respectively. After a hesitant start in the first act they gradually took over the whole show and justifiably gained the most enthusiastic applause for their number “We're Holding Hands,” the best in the show in my opinion.
Tim Sheppard and Rita M. Page tried hard in their parts but the rest of the cast never, exaggerated sufficiently to bridge the 50-yard gap between performer and audience.
Derek Collins (Mr. Potter) also produced and directed the show. He is to be congratulated on making it as enjoyable as it was.