Lehar's Merry Widow

Date 9th November 2018
Society Battle Amateur Theatrical Society
Venue Battle Memorial Hall
Type of Production Musical
Director Louise Winter
Musical Director Andrew Daniels
Choreographer Anna Hale

Report

Author: Anne Lawson

With bankruptcy looming, Ambassador Baron Zeta in Paris is hatching a plan to increase the ‘Fatherland’ coffers by giving a grand ball. His young, whimsical wife Valencienne flirting with Frenchman Camille is assumed to be trying to win support when Camille declares his love for her writing on her fan. This fan causes much consternation throughout the plot. Wealthy, recently widowed Anna Glavari is in town and to secure her marriage to a Pontevedrian, not a Frenchman, would save the situation. Dashing Danilo – Count Danilovitsch is the answer. Zeta’s aide Njegus is set the task. How can he persuade him after their earlier damaged love affair and is it just about her millions that the men swarm like bees around her? Flirting and intrigue, misunderstanding, jealously and love, a musical happy ending with the gentlemen still pondering over the mystery of women! With a most amusing script, superb music under the baton of Andrew Daniels and his players, first rate direction and creative choreography, this was a sparkling performance.

The orchestra were positioned to one side front of stage, immediately opposite tiered extensions edged with balustrade and, with use of the double doors, enabled the action to constantly flow well.  The audience were seated on raised tiers of the hall. With the five-man team, the set was designed and constructed – simply but elegantly with an impressive central staired entrance with luscious drapes.  Madam Glavari’s garden was highlighted with a thatched summer house with double doors perfect for mystery meetings! Additions of clothed tables and a chair for a Maxim’s lookalike, a chaise longue, a bench or two kept stage movement to a minimum and rear blacks made for excellent entries. Imaginative lighting throughout – particularly effective reds and purple and the additional ‘shell’ footlights added for the Maxim’s scene. Sound throughout was well balanced. Costume design and co-ordination of Wardrobe headed by Libby Montagu-Grainger – created gowns of sheer elegance, colours contrasting, gentlemen smart, national ribbon trimmed folk dress perfect, tantalizing Grisettes in black and red.  All complimented by excellent props, good hair styling, accessories and footwear, with special mention to Paula Weston-Smith on her creative headdresses and garlands.

Bearded and smart in red, Adrian Collins – always solid and comfortable in delightfully self-important somewhat foolish type roles, on this occasion the Pontevedrian Ambassador. Peter Elliott created the perfect aide Njegus, drawing on his sense of comedy with a twinkle and those perfect whiskers which really were homegrown! Great asides and ‘Fatherland’ gestures. Imogen Willetts took on her biggest challenge yet as Anna entering centre back, pausing at the top step with such poise and elegance and delighted throughout with her confident soprano singing. Her songs all beautifully rendered. Leading man Danilo was BLOG newcomer, talented classically trained bass baritone Oscar Smith, who charmed the ladies not only at the Embassy, Maxim’s, but his audience too. He was elegant, characterised with style, and with a mature rounded sound.

Well timed comedy came in abundance with love-struck Camille, played by Adam Packham, and flirtatious Valancienne with another perfect French accent, making her debut with the company - Ruth Parsons. Further comedy from suitors St Brioche (Bob Murray) suitably smartly attired complete with sash vying for Anna’s attention, with moustached Cascada – Richard Foster in very fine voice opened Act 1. Some wonderful angry exchanges, accents and glove handwork between them! Cameo characters amused and were complete by melodic ensemble guests, waiters, Grisettes with their high kicks and even the splits! Anna Hale choreographed elegant movement for the Embassy waltz scene, energetic folk dancing with circular work making best use of the stage area, crisp action for the men during ‘Women’ and romantic movement for Danilo and Anna. Attention to detail direction of Louise Winter and her hard-working production team culminated in a polished performance.