by Ivor Novello.

Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 26 September 2011.
Sun-Mon 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).,.uk
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 September.

Pleasant music and lyrics, but the book – aye, there’s the rub.
Most of the reputations blasted by the theatrical revolution of 1956 have been restored: Noel Coward highly respected again, Terence Rattigan close-on venerated, and musically, Vivian Ellis recognised as having spread more than a little happiness. But Ivor Novello has merely been glimpsed as a character in occasional films, including Gosford Park.

Yet around the Second World War this playwright, composer and actor wrote a series of large-scale, successful Drury Lane musicals. Now that year-round dramatic festival that is the Finborough Theatre gives a brief glimpse of Novello’s qualities and limitations.

It’s almost perverse, of course, to present Novello in a room above a pub (or Wine Café) with a single keyboard accompaniment (despite the sympathetically supportive Ross Leadbeater), on the set of another production.

But Blue Shale Theatre mostly come up with the goods, helped by the tall, dark and handsome presence of James Russell as modern equivalent to the matinee-idol sweep of Novello’s own performance.

And director Max Pappenheim uses the intimacy to emphasise Novello’s theatrical trick. Swapping the writer’s favoured Ruritania for Regency England, Perchance to Dream offers love-at-first-sight, family rivalry and a highwayman – a bit like Georgette Heyer with hummable melodies. It all ends badly, as is discovered when the action moves a quarter-century on to 1843.

Regency abandon (played at high speed to find the comedy in implausibilities) gives way to early Victorian respectability. With one exception. Claire Redcliffe ably contrasts 1818’s demure Melinda – too good for a naughty world – with Melanie, a wild, marriage-threatening spirit complete with risqué French dancing.

Such a major dramatic outburst is again broken off by a postscript where calmer contemporary couples sense the presence of the past which audiences have just witnessed. The music is pleasant if rarely more, but much of it, including hit-song ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ has no dramatic point, being either interludes or inserts unrelated to the action.

If the acting here is stretched at times, the signing and dancing is as high-class as most of the characters. And there’s a well-judged comic performance from Annabel Leventon in the sub-Lady Bracknell role of an enduring dowager.

Susan Pell/Miss Connors: Katy Treharne.
Ernestine Flavelle: Natalie Langston.
Edgar Poll/Bow Street Official: Michael Burgen.
Margaret: Rachael McCormick.
Ned Failsham/Vicat: Martin Milnes.
Sir Amyas Wendell: Robert Rees.
Lydia Lyddington/Veronica Lyddington/Iris: Kelly Price.
Aiken: Laura Hanna.
Sir Graham Rodney/Valentine Fayre/Bay: James Russell.
Lady Charlotte Fayre: Annabel Leventon.
William Fayre/Thomas/Bill: James Marchant.
Melinda Fayre/Melanie/Melody: Claire Redcliffe.
Dancer/Lucy Bridport: Gemma Sandzer.
Dancer/Lavinia: Amanda Hootman.
Dancer/Letitia: Clare Louise Connolly.

Director: Max Pappenheim.
Designer: Gregor Donnelly.
Lighting: Elliot Griggs.
Sound: Edward Lewis.
Musical Director: Ross Leadbeater.
Choreographer: Sally Brooks.

2011-09-12 11:15:43

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