18th November 2017
The Priory Centre - St Neots
Type of production
Author: Julie Armstrong
It was a Saturday night and I found myself, once again, at The Priory Centre in St Neots for VAMPS’ production of the all-singing, all-dancing, toe-tapping musical that is Sister Act. There are some fantastic numbers in this show and I was looking forward to a great night’s entertainment. I was warmly welcomed, as always with VAMPS, by the excellent front of house team and shown to my seat, which was at the very back of the theatre. This did, I’m afraid, have some bearing on my enjoyment of the show, as I found myself unable to see any detail in facial expressions and did unfortunately struggle to hear some of the dialogue - more about that later.
The opening numbers ‘Take Me To Heaven’ and ‘Fabulous Baby’, with the talented Tanya Grisson in the lead as Deloris Van Cartier, should have opened the show with all the pizzazz of the Pittsburgh nightclub where it is set. These are fantastic songs and I so wanted it to explode onto the stage and wow the audience right from the start. I felt that there were some missed opportunities in direction here. With just three performers (Tanya and her backing singers, Jenny Coates and Emma Verney-Davies) and a blank set, the atmosphere for me was somewhat lacking and did not blow us away as I would have liked to open the show. Perhaps using some of the many nuns, who appear later on, as punters in order to create a cabaret scene here would have added to the imagery on stage as well as some more use of lighting effects. I do feel that, where given the opportunity, the opening number of a show should indeed ‘Take Us To Heaven and be ‘Fabulous Baby’ - and it was, in this instance, handed to director Isabella Coleman, on a plate but for me unfortunately, failed to deliver.
Don McKay did a good job in the role of Curtis, although Don, you were just a bit too nice for me! I would have liked to see you a bit more threatening, more sinister - although, having said that, in true panto style, the audience booed as you took your bows, so a job well done.
Huw Nadin, Peter Crawford and Liam Hicks did a sterling job in their comedy roles as the bad guys and Curtis’ henchmen. Some very entertaining dance numbers, with choreography from Emma Driscoll, from these gentlemen and their enthusiasm was infectious - very well done!
Ian Wurzfold, as Sweaty Eddie, kept us entertained with his physical comedy (falling off the chair) and solo numbers. His song “I Could Be That Guy” had fantastic costume changes - huge congratulations to wardrobe (Sally Ritson) and those involved on stage to create the magic. Very effective and beautifully executed.
Mother Superior, Peta Riley, had some lovely solos and brought a sense of normality and calm to proceedings, whilst George Kelly as Monsignor O’Hara showed us his great acting range as he went from the man in charge to manic song and dance man in the finale number - super stuff!
And now to our Sisters. There were far too many to mention everyone, and at times this made the stage rather crowded, but plaudits must go to Laura Blackmore for some lovely acting and beautiful solos and also Emmeline Lyster, Emma Driscoll, Anne-Marie King and Sally Ritson. When the nuns all sang in chorus, these numbers were super and the lifted the atmosphere enormously. The closing songs of Act l are fantastic and VAMPS truly raised their game and their voices here to close the first act in style and left the audience tapping its feet and in high spirits.
Act ll continued to delight and again the super songs carried the piece through to the end, where Tanya shone in her role. There were some lovely lighting effects (Dave and Kate Maltby), especially the use of projection on the walls to create the convent all around us. I felt that more use could have been made of the glitter ball immediately above the stage, for example in the opening nightclub scene, the bar or the big numbers at the end. Every set seemed to have scenery placed centrally which sometimes meant that the stage looked crowded. Perhaps consider placing it at an angle stage right or left, to allow more central space. This would have helped in the bar scene, where more people were needed to create the busy bar atmosphere. Also, the background bar music was too loud here and unfortunately drowned out much of the dialogue for me at the back.
This was apparent throughout the show and I found it hard to pick up on some of the dialogue, particularly where it came in the middle of a song. This was a combination of mics and technical issues but also a need for the cast to really project right to the back of the space as I felt that a lot of the action was played to the first few rows only.
The band played beautifully throughout, led by Chris Phelps - and the backstage crew did an excellent job with generally smooth scene changes. The large church set was appropriate to the space and set the scenes nicely. As the show ended and the audience left singing and dancing their way into the foyer, there was a lovely hint of VAMPS’ next production, with a promotional stand and two puppets interacting with people as they passed. A lovely touch and a great way to let your audience know about Avenue Q, another super show and I very much look forward to seeing what VAMPS can do with this great production next year.