This is a quintessentially English show full of traditional one-liners, slapstick humour and lively numbers set against a rags-to-riches love story. Me and My Girl is one of those popular shows that tends to be done in the same format across any production, amateur or professional. So, it was with some level of pre-conception that I attended Willenhall Musical Theatre Company’s opening night last night.
The traditional comedy “set pieces” are all there - fans of the show will recognise the bowler hat tumble on the sofa, the suit of armour, the tiger rug routine – but it was refreshing to see these contrasted against a fresh approach to the staging of numbers such as the Lambeth Walk.
Choreographer Lindsey Grant has made full use of the space, storyline and characters to turn this number into an end of Act 1 show-stopping finale that really gets the audience going and avoids the repetitive well-established choreography so often attributed to the song.
Both the choreography and music are particularly strong throughout, with solo pieces delivered with confidence across the board and the full chorus numbers really giving the show a lift. It is a credit to the hard work of the whole company that each cast member looks at home on stage and everyone is fully integrated into each number.
It is in the drama scenes that the production tends to flounder a little. A lot of the comedy is lost even in the well-known set piece sequences, with the action being run at such a pace the audience have a hard time keeping up and lines are rushed through making the punch lines difficult to hear. This makes some of the longer scenes cumbersome at times, but it is nothing that a few pauses and controlled delivery would not improve.
This would certainly help relieve the pressure for Will Phipps as cheeky-chappy east-ender Bill Snibson. He comes across extremely well in the song and dance numbers, oozing charisma and with excellent dance skills, but in this relentlessly speedy production, the audience have little time to pick up on every punch-line and visual gag that he is working so hard to deliver.
Rosie Rachel Harper as his love interest Sally Smith gives a strong performance throughout, with excellent vocal control. The connection between Sally and Sir John Tremayne (played with charm by Roger Stokes) is truly endearing and highlights their plotline more than has been seen in previous productions.
The true heart of this production though is in the energy brought to the stage when the whole ensemble is featured; the audience’s attention is drawn to notice individuals amongst the chorus and smaller roles. Matt Cullis is suitably dead pan as put upon butler Charles and there are strong cameo performances deserving of mention from Philip Field, Zak Douglas and Georgia Haycock.
Endearing and energetic, the production had the first night audience humming and Lambeth-walking their way out of the Dormston Theatre. All things considered it was a jolly ripping evening out!
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