Blitz

Date 26th September 2019
Society In Your Face Theatre (Seaham)
Venue Seaham Town Hall
Type of Production Musical
Director Helen Abraham
Musical Director Tim Jasper

Report

Author: Peter Oliver

I thought that this was an excellent choice of production for In Your Face Theatre Seaham, written by Lionel Bart this musical has some fabulous music and a story line which mixes nostalgia, fun, humour and sadness, it follows the story of two family’s the Jewish Blitztein’s and the cockney Locke’s and how despite living through the second world war, love can conquer all despite their differences. The production was well planned under the Direction of Helen Abraham whose attention to detail and good organisational skills ensured that the scenes were well delivered by this talented cast. Helen always shows attention to detail and she certainly brought the score to life, whilst the characters are clearly defined within the script it took Helen and her artistic flair to bring these characters, conflicts and dialogue to life

The all in one set was well planned in the way that you felt that you had been transported back to the London underground during the blitz, dark, dismal with a haze of smoke to add to the atmosphere which was highly believable. The special effects were fantastic, and I loved how the production team had installed woofer speakers under the audience’s seats which vibrated through when the bombs were hitting London excellent effect and certainly added to the overall experience, as was the authentic projection of war-torn London which was visually entertaining and authentic.   

The props looked believable and I particularly liked the Portobello stall holder’s carts selling fruit and vegetable, and Mrs Blitztein's herrings all of which looked very authentic and I particularly liked how the cast was utilised to bring the props on and off integrating this into the action which was very well staged. The lighting plot was well designed, and I know that Helen is very particular about this element of her productions, the overall effect was very atmospheric conceived to amplify the areas of action but designed to appear simple for solo numbers to the extreme of blinding flashes for the explosion scenes which certainly added value thanks to Gary Ward. Sound as always was in the capable hands of Duncan Baxter who ensured that the sound was well balanced. Costumes and hairstyles had a real war time feel about them and very much in keeping with the era thanks to Zoe Cooke and ensemble. The small band was ideally suited to the venue and score, and under the musical direction of Tim Jasper the band played with vivacity and feeling and gave excellent support to the cast whilst creating a wonderful wartime atmosphere.

Choreography was effectively merged into the production with some lovely routines and movement which were well choreographed to make the most of the actor’s talent and the knee’s up numbers were given lots of energy. Well done to the tech crew and front of house staff who ensured that the production went smoothly, and the audience was well taken care of.

This show is unique in the fact that each and every member of the cast played  a vital contribution to the overall production and as a consequence none of the cast member came on to dress the stage. The show opens in the middle of an air raid with the cast taking refuge in the underground station, the opening musical number “Our Hotel” was fantastically choreographed and well sang with the whole cast  throwing themselves into their characters establishing the plight of the people and the community spirit, which I feel was the feeling at the time due to the adversity of  War. The underground scene was where we met most of the characters,  Playing the part of Mrs Blitztein was Claire Taylor who took up the mantel only two weeks prior to opening and what a performance, she delivered this central character is the anchor of the show as the archetypical East End Jewish mother fiercely protective of her children and what an outstanding performance Claire delivered, rarely off stage she conveyed most credibly the humour, tragedy and pathos whilst trying to do the right thing for her family and her community. Her musical numbers were both confidently and beautifully delivered especially “So Tell Me Jack” as she pleads for guidance from her deceased husband beautiful delivered a certain show stopper and “Bake A Cake”. Just as amazing was Steven Stobbs as Alfred Locke who only joined the cast a week prior to opening again another sterling performance from this actor who was an equal match to Mrs Blitztein showing aggression and humour as they threw barbed comments at each other, great cockney accent and stage presence, musically Steven delivered his numbers confidently and certainly wouldn’t be out of place in any West End production, I particularly enjoyed “Tell Him, Tell Her”. Playing the part of Alfred’s friend was Shaun Crosby as Ernie Nearmiss, great character performance full of warmth and at times extremely funny, continually bringing news of disaster and tragedy which added some humour to some very tense situations, I loved his contribution to the patriotic musical number “As Long As This Is England” delivered with his friend Mr O’Hara confidently played by Darrell Rush.

Catherine Hillam was charming as Carol Blitztein, not an easy role to play with her bubbly personality who unfortunately loses her sight in a bomb blast, well-acted from this young actress, totally besotted with Georgie Locke her musical number “Far Away” was beautifully sang with lots of feeling. Playing her opposite was Anthony Heslop as Georgie Locke he delivered some lovely scenes and the chemistry between him and Catherine was very sincere and most convincing especially when he returns from war to find out Carol was blind and that he still wanted to marry her, their duets “Opposites” and “I Wanna Whisper Something” were confidently sang.

Jon Isbell played the lovable playboy character Harry Blitztein, this was a great character to play, flirting with the ladies, including the married Joyce Matthews played by Tracy Grievson, deserting from the army and dealing on the black market a real heartache to his mother yet Jon captured the essence of this character perfectly, I love his musical number “”Duty Calls” when he changes and decides to return back to the army beautifully sang with the chorus. Playing one of his girlfriends was Zoe Cooke who has a natural lively stage presence, she portrayed the saucy character Elsie down to the ground, Zoe has a strong singing voice and her musical numbers” Leave It To The Ladies” delivered with the female cast and her friend Peg Murphy played by Steph Crew was well choreographed and sang as was her number “Down The Lane “with the ensemble. Emily Harrison gave a confident performance as Cissy Blitztein, again great stage presence and complemented the Blitztein family perfectly. Playing two fantastic characters were Irene Smith and Norma Ord - as Mrs Murphy, Irene delivered a standout performance, great characterisation and has a natural stage presence which she used to bring out the character perfectly and Norma Ord who has a natural talent playing the role of Mrs Josephs she delivered an understated performance that captured the natural intonation of the Jewish character with wonderful cutting lines and characterisation and her contribution to the musical number “Petticoat Lane “ with Shaun Crosby was truly remarkable and funny. Playing smaller cameo roles were John Curtis as the policeman, Peter Round as Flight Lieutenant, Stephanie Peacock as the school teacher, 

The youngsters were integral to this production and provided some lovely scenes and musical numbers, I particularly enjoyed  “We’re Going To The Country” sang with their mothers and delivered with lots of attitude,and another favourite of mine was “Mums and Dads” which I thought was excellently delivered and certainly an audience pleaser, well done to Anthony Heslop as Georgie Locke, Aimee Cutis as Francis Locke, Corey Bone as Siddy Blitzstein, Rebecca Moore as Rachael Blitzstein, Orie Coulton-Goodwin as Tommy Blackwell, Leyton Bone as Buddyboy, Daniel Davies as Charlie, Danyl Neil as Bird, Romy Wilkinson as Joannie Jones, Lily Mason as Mary O’Hara and Kathryn Mitchell as Ester Findlestein. Congratulations to you all some lovely acting and movement and you all certainly contributed in making this production such a success.

No show is every complete without a strong ensemble congratulation to Sophie Harrison, Emily Kerr, Tia Wilkinson, Sam Mason, Anne Peacock, Jonathan Ryan and Makala Mountford  who ensured that this was a very effective production that encompassed a high level of skill and the big musical ensemble numbers were well sung I particularly liked   “Who’s That Geezer Hitler”, “The Day After Tomorrow”  which was lovely set and very nostalgic  with the authentic radio and my favourite “Petticoat Lane”.

This was a most enjoyable production which moved a great pace it was full of warmth, nostalgia and vitality which the audience appreciated, and I enjoyed very much, a big congratulations and well done to In Your Face Theatre Seaham.