by Michael Richmond and Jeremy Paul lyrics by Michael Richmond music by Nola York from a story by Frank Stockton.

Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 13 February 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 7, 14, 21, 28 Jan 2.30pm.
Audio-described 9 Jan 3pm 12 Jan.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 December.

Endless enjoyment at the Orange Tree.
Musicals hardly come much more minimal than this now-revived 1975 Orange Tree creation. It gives rise to several near (that’s near) libellous suggestions. How did director Sam Walters fill the rehearsal period? Was it by taking a vacation for a couple of weeks in the middle? Or by long-term appreciation of the joke that, having marshalled huge casts in-the-round on the theatre’s tiny stage, he’s now handling a musical – often a large-scale genre – with a mere quartet of actors?

Given that Carole Todd admirably stages the musical numbers, what was there in this piece to keep a director of Walters’ mettle occupied for more than a couple of days (and probably only half-an-hour on the second)?

That pales into insignificance by how Tim Meacock lived up to the description of Designer. An honest toiler in the field of stage design, he must have been looking to add peripheral elements, given that the set itself is minimal enough to arouse the scorn of Andrew C Wadsworth’s déclassé Pooh-Bah (his Factotum goes beyond W S Gilbert’s Lord High Everything Else, to a fair range of riff-raffish anything elses too).

Perhaps Wadsworth has the lion’s share of the work, playing – as he pointedly points out – some six characters. It’s a claim that takes some time to mature; in the first act he merely doubles, briefly and inconsequentially, as some kind of anarcho-syndicalist-bandit-conspirator stereotype. Not that there’s anything the least stereotypical about the princess, king or hero. Oh, no.

It rattles along with enjoyable performances from Howard Samuels’ semi-civilised, semi-barbaric King (it’s that sort of kingdom), Riona O’Connor’s similar, wilful princess plus Eke Chukwu’s assertively ineffectual hero. There’s no chorus, though the two-man band of Greg Last and Tom Sellwood (guitar and keyboard respectively, though not without their brassy moments) seem determined to usurp the choric function too, particularly in the catchy title number.

Please, the programme says, keep the end secret: but whether in the end it’s lady, tiger, or not, isn’t the point, Storywise, here it really is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Especially with such good company.

Factotum: Andrew C Wadsworth.
Princess: Riona O’Connor.
King: Howard Samuels.
Hero: Eke Chukwu.
Court Musicians: Greg Last, Tom Sellwood.

Director: Sam Walters.
Designer: Tim Meacock.
Lighting: John Harris.
Musical staging: Carole Todd.
Assistant directors: Lora Davies, Emma Faulkner.

2010-01-07 00:17:58

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