The Bakewell Bakeoff & The Departure Lounge

Date 21st July 2017
Society Viva Theatre Company
Venue The Brook Soham
Type of Production Musical
Director Dan Schumann/Mary Barnes/Joshua Schumann
Musical Director Jenny Taylor-Surridge/
Choreographer Jessica Clifford/Joshua Schumann

Report

Author: Julie Petrucci

The Brook in Soham had been transformed to replicate the venue Viva will be using during their Edinburgh Festival performances.  This year the prolific Viva Group is taking three shows to Edinburgh and the first two musicals The Bakewell Bake Off and The Departure Lounge pre-viewed at The Brook.

The Bakewell Bake Off, book and lyrics by The Baking Committee is not quite but almost a take off of the hit BBC reality show.  Although billed (and licensed) as a musical it is, to my mind, essentially a panto, there’s even a Christmas-themed song and dance.  The script contains some very old-fashioned jokes with plenty of innuendo too. From squirty cream to large buns and, naturally, soggy bottoms, and there’s no danger of political correctness.   

Set in the small town of Bakewell in Derbyshire, seven baking-mad contestants are preparing to take part in the annual cookery competition, the final round of which will be a contest to decide the definitive recipe for a Bakewell tart. 

Through song we hear the backstories of an eclectic group of contestants: each hoping that their baking skills will impress the judges. The judges too are an odd mix, owners of the three village bakeries, each of whom claim to have the original recipe for the world-famous Bakewell Tart.  The host is the larger-than-life Head of the Bakewell Baking Committee Victoria Sponge and an added ingredient is The Creme Puffs, (a trio of backing singers).

Setting, of necessity basic, was colourful with a red, white and blue colour theme.  The props, always a strong feature in a Viva production, were impressive.  Well done there Vicki Jelleyman (who made the cakes) and the props team.  The costumes under the charge of Brenda Rose were good and appropriate to the characters  The lighting was fine overall and the three spots along the front worked splendidly although some actors did not “find their light” as well as others.  Good keyboard work from Mark Clough . The music was not particularly easy.  

The rousing opening number In Bakewell  got the whisks whirring and gave the audience the opportunity to absorb the odd mix of characters and costumes.  Then the effervescent Sarah Shorney, as host Victoria Sponge, encouraged everyone to stand to sing The Bakewell Anthem.  Compliments to Sarah, she worked hard all evening and never once lost her sparkle.  The show has an actual bake-off, with an audience member invited up to judge the final cakes a situation Sarah handled really well.

To say the contestants were quirky is an understatement.  All had a story to sing for us Frank Crosby (HENRIETTA APFELSTRUDEL – A German Transsexual in national dress), the aforementioned Vicki Jelleyman (TINA TARTIN – The “Original Bakewell Tart”), Sammy Williams (Flora Drizzle - a lovelorn dentist), Chloe Grimes (Sister Mary - a rather wriggly nun), Kate Weekes (Holly Berry - a Christmas Lover complete with reindeer jumper and antlers), David Blyth (Freddie Twist - a shy and rather normal postman), Radha Bilimoria (a Doctor - who battles against the racism of the locals) and Ruth Lo (Mary Macaroon).  The music and lyrics in many of the solos were not easy to handle.  As the songs tell the story it is important they are heard and, unfortunately, this was not so in some cases.  Pre-view night nerves may have had something to do with it.  The vocal trio, however, were excellent and I am sure helped the less confident singers a great deal.  Well done Kerry Hibbert, Laura Leonard and Sophie Plachcinski for not only adding some lovely harmonising but handling the myriad of costume changes so well.  

The Judges, though central to the piece, had to do quite a bit of back-acting whilst being ready when necessary to inject themselves into the action.  In the main they handled this well.  Anthea Kenna complete with a blue rinse wig as GRISELDA PRATT-DEWHURST - Leader of the Parish Council was suitably loud and domineering,  David Moat as the lecherous posh judge Hugh Drip looked just right but seemed slightly ill at ease with the innuendo and literal hands-on side of his character. Emma Gilbey’s SUSIE SUNFLOWER was super-sweet.  Her blossoming love for Freddie was well played and they had a really nice duet which they handled well despite the efforts of Flora Drizzle to interject.

The fifteen-strong cast had some trouble with the space when it came to the choreography even though Choreographer Jessica Clifford had necessarily kept it as simple as she could.  That is what the evening was about for the cast, getting used to the space.

In fact the point of holding a pre-view was to give an indication to Directors Dan Schumann and Mary Barnes and Musical Director Jenny Taylor-Surridge and her assistants just how well the show will work in Edinburgh.  It was certainly well received by Viva’s faithful home-town audience.

The Departure Lounge

Director Joshua Schumann could not have chosen a musical more unrelated in style to the first offering of the evening than Dougal Irvine’s Departure Lounge if he had tried.  This was a lads’ show with knobs on (no pun intended).  Told by both narrative and song the style of which changes frequently.

In Malaga airport we meet four lads returning home to receive their exam results, prior to growing up, splitting up and having to go their own ways. This holiday was a final celebration of their friendship but the past seven days has had their effect on these close friends.  It soon becomes clear that their individual memories of the holiday are at odds, particularly when it comes to romance and the girl on all their minds…

A very basic setting, consisting of four chairs, the lads’ luggage and a giant inflatable ice lolly (which was put to good use).  Costumes were right for each character and the lighting design worked very well.  I liked the dimmed lights upstage when actors worked down front in the spot.  This left enough illumination to see the continuous but non-intrusive back-acting of the three other actors.  There was great choreographed movement around the stage throughout.  

The boys, posh kid JB (Lee Sherwood), intelligent outsider Ross (Joseph Hall), Jordon, (Ben Clark) the quiet lady-killer with a secret, and badly sunburnt hard man Pete (Simon Thompson), presented a bawdy laddish friendship. The balance of their politically incorrect joshing gets upset by rivalry concerning "a bit of a tart" they met during the trip, called Sophie (Emily Thompson).

The musical accompaniment of Jazz Bullen’s superb guitar playing enhanced this production.  This show hit the stage running from the opening  number Brits on Tour. Many of the musical numbers could stand alone, the opening number certainly and Why Do We Say Gay?  a four-part harmony using only the word "gay"was amazingly well done,  

This quartet of lads made absolutely believable friends.  All four exuded confidence and talent.  The interaction was exceptional as was the singing and acting.  Emily’s character Sophie almost seems incidental to the plot but there was nothing incidental about this performance.  Totally committed to her multi-costume role she played Pete and Ross off against each other with consummate ease.

Strong direction, first rate singing and acting, supreme guitar playing - I loved every second of the show.  Never mind Malaga, Edinburgh won’t know what’s hit them.