Me and My Girl

Date 27th April 2022
Society Bookham Light Operatic Society
Venue The Nomad Theatre, East Horsley
Type of Production Musical
Director Jackie Shearer
Musical Director James Marr
Choreographer Sam Potten

Report

Author: Pauline Surrey

This musical was originally performed in 1937 and was revived and refreshed in the 1980s, and it has unsurprisingly remained a firm favourite throughout the years. It is extremely funny, yet is also a charming love story. It also deals with that favourite of British themes – class.

It is set in Hampshire at the home of the Earl of Hareford. Upon the death of the 13th Earl, a search has been mounted to find the rumoured 14th Earl. To the horror of the family, this turns out to be a costermonger from Lambeth, Bill Snibson, who also has a fine ‘party trick’ of picking pockets. The senior family members decide against all odds to turn this reluctant fellow into an English gentleman. The family objects though to his (to us charming) Lambeth girlfriend, Sally, and do their darndest to sabotage this genuine romance.

So this battle of wills and clash of cultures causes all kinds of havoc, to the delight of the audience.

The splendid scenery was a constant delight, and good use was made of projections onto the gauze. There was a pleasant Mayfair street, the splendid staircase of Hareford Hall, a fine library, an excellent kitchen, a cosy pub revealing village houses and church through the window, and a somewhat run-down street in Lambeth. But the crowning glory was the delightful garden, so colourful and inviting. Lighting was very effective throughout.

An amazing array of stunning costumes made this show a feast for the eyes. We had all the usual ‘country house weekend’ costumes, from the elegant guests with their suitcases arriving in the ‘bus’, with natty chauffeur, through the pretty dresses of the garden party, to the splendid gowns and headwear – and oh so elegant long gloves - of the Hunt Ball. Who remembers the days of department store glove departments (I do, I used to work in one!), and ladies having a glove drawer in their dressing table?  The staff all looked very smart in their uniforms too. The gentlemen were finely dressed for each activity, be it croquet on the lawn, shooting, or evening wear. Lady Jacqueline always looked extremely elegant, complete with 1930s hairstyle, beads, hair ornaments and beautiful dresses. This contrasted nicely with the pretty, simple frocks worn by Sally. Poor Bill, our cockney sparrow, was poured into all kinds of outfits, including hunting and shooting attire. As I expected, we were even treated to a resplendent Pearly King and Queen. Ancestors through the ages looked splendid, especially the 18th Century one! Props were many, of course, to match all the different activities. There was also a marvellous ear trumpet for Sir Jasper Tring, that doubled as a hunting horn, or was it the other way around?

The 3-piece band of keyboard, bass guitar and drums was very ably directed by James Marr. There was always a good balance of sound, so that the singing could always be clearly heard, and the clarity of diction of the cast was excellent. The band produced some good sound effects too.

Samantha Potten provided excellent choreography, the whole stage was well-used, and the dances had an attractive vivacity and freshness.

We knew we were in for a treat the moment the curtain rose on the group of smartly dressed people in Mayfair, chatting excitedly as they awaited departure for their Hareford Hall weekend, and being greeted there, in proper fashion, by the family and staff. We then met the amazing Lady Jaqueline (Susan Foster) and her fiancé The Hon Gerald Bolingbroke (Jacob Elsey). I say amazing, because not only did Susan Foster have a fine voice and great presence, her character, the feisty Lady Jaquie was obviously out to get every advantage from life that she could wangle as she sang with great gusto:  ‘I’m at the top of the tree, thinking of no-one but me’.  Having heard that the new Earl of Hareford is NOT going to be Gerald, she cast him aside, hoping to angle the new Earl instead. She remained steadfast in this aim, despite the shock of discovering the social disaster that that new Earl is a cockney costermonger.  Jacob Elsey, also in fine voice, dealt with his disappointment well, and kept hoping.

We then met the rest of the family, on the occasion of the family solicitor, Parchester (a strong performance from Kevin Wood) announcing the fact that the newly discovered heir is Bill Snibson. Shock, horror all round, especially on the part of Sir John Tremayne, Lord and Lady Battersby, and the aforementioned Jaquie and Gerald. Sir Jasper Tring, deaf as a post, wielding his ear trumpet, seemed fairly unconcerned as he only caught snatches of the conversation. A nice cameo part here, played very comically by Sid Dolbear. Maria, Duchess of Dene, the matriarch of the family, was played to perfection by Jane Seymour. A real Iron Lady, she decided immediately in true ‘stiff upper lip’ fashion, to make the best of a disastrous situation. She determined to take the cockney Bill in hand and transform him into an acceptable English gentleman. Thus followed an amazing battle of wits.

Bill, for his part, was quite perplexed at the situation he found himself in, and was in fact quite unwilling to exchange his pleasant lifestyle and even pleasanter girlfriend Sally for the unknown trials and tribulations of life as a Lord, and being the prey of Lady Jaquie. Michael Ayres, as Bill, and Helen Teasdale as Sally, put their hearts and souls into their roles, and produced some of the production’s finest moments, with fine duets and yearning solos.

So there was a fine story here, but the thing that enchanted us and the audience on this first night was the amount of clever comedy in this show, and the fact that the BLOS cast used their marvellous comedic skills and excellent comic timing to allow us to appreciate it in full.

Highlights in this regard were the Song of Hareford, where Bill’s illustrious ancestors appeared to him, and he was urged on by the Duchess to take up the baton. There were portraits of the ancestors over the bookshelves in the library, and when the ancestors appeared, they disappeared from the picture frames. When they left the stage after their rousing song, they reappeared in the portraits!

The other comedy highlight, surely, was Sir John, the marvellous Paul Winder, ever more inebriated, conspiring with the equally tipsy Bill. Describing his inamorata, Maria the intrepid Duchess, Lord John said: ‘She’s like Mussolini without the charm’.  Somebody else was ‘behaving like a suttergipe’.

These two fellows carousing and falling about the stage, singing ‘Love makes the world go round’ just brought the house down! Absolute perfection! It’s really not easy playing a drunk, but playing dancing and singing drunks quite convincingly shows real talent indeed!

And then of course there were those songs, known and loved by many of us since childhood, and expertly performed here by this talented cast. ‘The Lambeth Walk’ and ‘The sun has got his hat on’ had us all longing to join in, such exuberance!  Bill gave a stunning, sad rendering of ‘I’m leaning on a lampost’, as he pined in Lambeth for Sally, quite unlike the chirpy George Formby version, giving the song a new depth. Whilst I’m on the subject of songs, Sally’s wonderfully touching ‘Once you lose your heart’, so well performed by Helen Teasdale, also stays in my mind.

All praise to Director Jackie Shearer, Musical Director James  Marr and Choreographer Samantha Potten,  for this fine production.

To sum up, this show offered us great acting, superb characterisation, brilliant comedy, a tender love story, great musical moments and a superb evening of jolly uplifting fun!