A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson based on the novel by P G Wodehouse and the play by P G Wodehouse and Ian Hay music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin.
Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 27 June 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 17, 25 Jun 2.30pm.
Audio-described 19 Jun, 20 Jun 2.30pm.
Captioned 27 Jun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 June.
Frivolous fun above and below stairs.
They say the sine qua non of a successful musical is a good book. However attractive the songs and dances, however gorgeous the scenery and costumes, without the firm spine of a well-written story the edifice won’t stand-up. Indeed, many musicals (and operas) lie unknown apart from isolated gems extracted from their defunct bodies.
With a P G Wodehouse novel as its source this has a good book behind it. And, in Jeremy Sams, someone adept at adaptations.
But the requirements to keep to something like the Wodehouse plot (which Sams does) is downright vitiated by the need to include the durable part of the mauling Wodehouse received at Hollywood’s hands from the 1937 film musical – the Gershwins’ lyrics and music (most notably, perhaps, ‘Nice Work’).
Their songs, from the film and elsewhere (including the Wodehouse-sounding ‘I’m a Poached Egg’, though it’s actually an import to Damsel), are incorporated to musical benefit but narrative inconsequence.
There’s some backstage (or stage-door) comedy, which isn’t funny and only succeeds as plot by taking audiences into a world of romantic silliness – which befits the fake-romantic setting (whence we are whisked) of an English castle ruled by Isla Blair’s truly formidable Lady Caroline, her rule of iron reinforced by a will of the same substance.
Thankfully, young lover George Bevan is American – in Wodehouse on vacation, here rehearsing his new musical in London. So he’s not easily discouraged. As the love he pursues, and sort-of rescues from her own, cloudily developed, pretensions to intellectual seriousness as well as an arranged marriage, Summer Strallen is denied much opportunity to use her dancing and singing skills in an often passive or reactive role.
A secondary plot brings romance among the roses involving meek Lord Marshmoreton – Nicholas Farrell combining melancholy with comedy. Unlike Desmond Barrit’s forthright, upright Butler Keggs who loyally leads a march of mop-wielding skivvies in support of his Lordship’s eventual rebellion.
Lovely to look at, splendidly staged by Rob Ashford, the show maintains Chichester’s high production standards, without becoming a cause to jump for joy rather than a source of quiet enjoyment.
Billie Dore: Sally Ann Triplett.
Perkins/Pierre: David Roberts.
Jimbo: Matthew Hawksley.
Zoë: Laura Tyrer.
Annabelle: Lucie-Mae Sumner.
George Bevan: Richard Fleeshman.
Mac: Alan Vicary.
Maud Marshmoreton: Summer Strallen.
Lady Caroline Byng: Isla Blair.
Reggie Byng: Richard Dempsey.
Lord Marshmoreton: Nicholas Farrell.
Alice Keggs: Melle Stewart.
Keggs: Desmond Barrit.
Dorcas: Chloë Hart.
McInnes: Matt Wilman.
Esme: Kirby Hughes.
Bungo Strathbungo: Sam Harrison.
Joseph Button: Jonathan Stewart.
Austen Grey: Harry Morrison.
Ensemble: Mairi Barclay, Chris Bennett, Stephanie Bron.
Director/Choreographer: Rob Ashford.
Designer: Christopher Oram.
Lighting: Howard Harrison.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.
Orchestrator: Bill Elliott.
Musical Supervisor/Dance Arrangements: David Chase.
Musical Director: Alan Williams,
Dialect coach: Michaela Kennen.
Hair/Wigs: Richard Maybey.
Assistant director: Johanne Webb.
Assistant musical director: Phil Cornwell.
Associate designer: Lee Newby.
Assistant designer: Frankie Bradshaw.
Associate choreographer: Chris Bailey.
Assistant choreographer: Pip Jordan.