funny turns at Jermyn Street

22 Jul

BY DAVID HAMSHIRE AT JERMYN STREET THEATRE

Here is a brilliant show for anyone sick to death of politics and the 21st century and would like to enjoy a real show business treat.

The setting by Sharon Lovett Lampi is the living room in theatrical digs in 1935. – accurate in every detail. There is a cuckoo clock on the wall, framed posters, pictures and photographs of show business personalities. The Parker Knoll armchair in front of the fire. Correct period dining chairs. A piano in the corner with a shawl thrown over it.

It is a time of peace. The characters still remember the first world war but are not aware that there is a second one on the cards. Bernard, the husband of Alice, the landlady, was injured in the war, is in bed offstage and does not appear. His wife Alice – a caring landlady, played with complete accuracy by Joan Blackham and her pretty daughter Sally (Georgia Rily) are at his back and call throughout the play.

Norman Tate, (Kenneth Michaels) one of the lodgers, is a failed comedian who manages to think of jokes long after they have been performed by somebody else. As he gives the feed line one can almost hear the minds of the audience as they mentally provide the tag.

‘ Conjuring With Comedy!’ Mansel David plays the eccentric magician in an exotic dressing jacket. Scattered around the set, in vases and peoples’ pockets and pushed down chairs is a plethora of his colourful coloured silk scarves — retrieved by Sally from all sorts of unusual places. (I knew a magician who had the same problem)

An evil little song and dance man who is loved by Sally but who is not all he seems is Lewis Rae as Carlie Prince.

Nellie Price is a plate spinner and also the wife of Norman – a kind-hearted, generous (with presents and sexual favours), but incredibly annoying Irish woman Crissy Mullen.

One of her lovers is Martin Wimbush, authoritative and amusing as Harold Chance, an impresario; another is the author David Hampshire, a ‘legitimate’ actor.

Every one of these characters is real and played with extraordinary perception by the stunning cast. They are real people, we love them, cry with them and are sometimes irritated by them, but never for one moment are they false to the audience.

David Hampshire, after forty years living with and studying theatricals, has given us something important. I have seen it played at the Comedy Museum and then twice at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Once to an audience of theatre professionals where the laughter was loud and long. Then again to a regular theatre-going audience where the laughter was less noisy but equally enthusiastic.

There is one more character, which is everybody’s favourite. David Forest gives to ‘Arthur Merson, the man with the tunes’ an exceptional truth and vulnerability. He steals everyone’s heart with his brilliant portrayal of an ex performer who tries to play his song over and over again to the disinterested members of the cast. The audience is deeply affected each time he is foiled when he attempts to play his masterpiece. “Don’t send my Wanda to Wandsworth.”

Hayward B. Morse, another terrific show biz veteran is the perfect director for this production. So beautifully done.

The author quotes Roy Barraclough in the programme. “If you wrote some of these stories, people would say they were made up.”

So David did, And they are not.

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