The Merry Widow

Date 13th November 2019
Society Betchworth Operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue Betchworth Village Hall
Type of Production Opera
Director Alison Cooper
Musical Director Ian Stone

Report

Author: Jon Fox

This sumptuous operetta is all too rarely staged on the amateur stage today to my regret. A show full of glorious melodies so well known and well loved by all who appreciate the shows of yesteryear, when melody was far more in vogue than in many more modern shows. I would gladly attend theatre every night, if shows of this stature and quality were regularly staged.

It should be said that the story itself is far from a special one. The idea of a rich widow being financially courted by a country whose economy depends on her not withdrawing her money seems fanciful in this day and age. Essentially, it is a love story about two people who both love but also loathe each other. This is a well-worn device, of course, in musicals and the show’s fame is mostly because of its musicality, together with beautiful and rich costumes.

In the title role of Anna, Madame Glavari, BODS can boast a very special performer indeed.  Sarah Esser-Haswell, who inhabited the role (special performers do not act roles, they inhabit them) was sheer perfection.  Sarah is, of course, much in demand and performs professionally and dominates each scene she plays. She is the Queen of Hearts and the Ace in the BODS pack. Her singing is spine tingling and then some!

Playing opposite Sarah as the self-indulgent Count Danilovitch (Danilo) was the considerable talent and stage presence of Peter Thomas. Two leads of this quality are extremely rare in amateur theatre.  

On the compact stage, show director Alison Cooper, who also designed the set, worked wonders. Alison was ably assisted by SM Stephen Tickell together with lighting by Davis Ames. A willing in-house team constructed the most effective set. Lone musician Ian Stone conducted as necessary and gave sterling musical accompaniment from his piano and a most pleasing vocal sound was present throughout the evening.  

Sumptuous costumes enhanced the show. Elizabeth Callow and Sue Bracher supplied and Alison Cooper and Ann Staddon designed. The ladies’ gowns were especially impressive. I did notice that not all of the gentlemen’s black shoes were sufficiently polished, however.  Angela Edwards did sterling work on hair, a most important task in this show among all shows.

An Eiffel Tower effect on stage gave the Parisian setting authenticity and Trevor Allen as Baron Zeta played his important role with nuanced skill. His love-cheating wife Valencienne was attractively played by Jane Khan with the change-over scene in the summer house being well staged.    David Clark, playing Camille (Count de Rosillon) did well and singing tunefully as her love interest. There was an amusing double act of rivals for Anna’s affection. St. Brioche and Cascada, well played by Andy Davis and mark Edwards respectively, squabbled and threatened each other to good effect.

David Longes raised comic exasperation to new heights, really making the put upon Njegus his own. Another top performer! The fan deception also was handled with skill as the tension built on stage as to whom it actually belonged.

A particular highspot was the wonderful Grisette dance number with some spirited and enjoyable high kicking by the supple and talented lady dancers. The smaller principal roles were all played to a high standard with many individual touches by stage experienced players and the whole evening was a resounding success.  I was saddened to learn that this show marks the end of  directing for the brilliant and inventive Alison Cooper.  She will be a hard, almost impossible, act to follow, as regular patrons of BODS are only too aware.  Some show on which to bow out though!