An American In Suffolk

Date 4th July 2019
Society Orchard Players
Venue The Village Hall, Capel St Mary
Type of Production Musical
Director Cheryll Burton
Singing Taskmaster Maria Young
Choreographer Emma Cole, Amanda Dack,Bex Nicholls,Lynn Perera, Brian Spalding
Producer Charles Burwood & Bex Nicholls

Report

Author: DeeDee Doke

What could be finer than spending a July 4th evening at an original musical celebrating variations on the UK-US ‘special relationship’ – and, in particular, Suffolk’s long-standing ties between its communities and the US air forces (US Army Air Force during World War II and the US Air Force now).

Authored by Bex Nicholls and directed by Cheryll Burton, An American in Suffolk is primarily a swoony romance focused on teacher Jane (Charlea Burwood), an English rose who meets and falls in love with American pilot Joe (James Finbow) while he is based in Suffolk in 1942. When his plane goes down into enemy territory while on a mission, Joe seems to be lost to Jane forever. She marries a teaching colleague, and gives birth to a son named Joe, then her husband dies. Ten years later, when Jane is questioning her place in the world, she experiences yet another life-changing encounter.

A secondary romance plot involves Joe’s best friend Frank (Ray Seager) and Jane’s bestie Charlotte (Sophie Edwards), a local aristocrat who aims for a writing career.

Set mostly against the backdrop of a Suffolk village, the musical also highlights the uneasy beginnings of another kind of ‘special relationship’, that between the local children and the evacuee youngsters from London. In the latter half of the show featuring post-war years, the action shifts to New York, where Frank, Charlotte and their children now live, and Frank has just opened up the little jazz club he and Joe planned long ago.

The music consists of wartime and 1950s hits by Glenn Miller, the Andrews Sisters and many other old favourites that masterfully evoke the eras.

The choreography by a team of five (Emma Cole, Amanda Dack, Bex Nicholls, Lynn Perera and Brian Spalding), dazzled, brought to sparkling life by cracking dancers who executed the 1940s-style numbers with flair, precision and a carefree insouciance that belied the rehearsal that must have gone into creating these dances. At any one time, numerous dancers filled the stage, all smiling, all managing to stay out of everyone’s way. A breathtaking achievement!

In an evening filled with lovely renditions of nostalgic music, a couple of numbers especially stood out as highlights: a duet by best mates Joe and Frank filled with warmth and camaraderie and a solo performed in a sultry, soulful alto by Lauren Bloom.

Costumes reflected well the flavours, the colours and styles of the period. Military costumes and accompanying insignia are tough to ace completely but in general, costumers fared well with accuracy.

My husband, an aviation aficionado, was very impressed that the references in the show to various wartime aircraft were right on the money.

An American in Suffolk featured a number of highly satisfying performances, from the portrayal of snobby aristocratic chair of the village committee Lady Emily (Julie Wardley) to Jane’s young son JJ (Riley Evans). As Jane and Charlotte, Charlea Burwood and Sophie Edwards effectively captured the bright-eyed acting style of the era, making their characters both wistful and mischievous. Ray Seager was a strong, comforting presence as Joe’s best friend and Charlotte’s husband (a nice performance although his beard would not have been allowed in the AAF), and James Finbow successfully delivered the easy confidence and breezy charm of the American airman.

This show would seem to have commercial potential for the author, especially to be performed by other groups in East Anglia. Already enjoyable, it would benefit further from being cut by about 30 minutes. At the same time, there was one character who is spoken about but never seen whom I think we should have met, even briefly.

An American in Suffolk was a really enjoyable, memorable evening – and well done to everyone involved.