There is something so magical about the theatre when a cast can take you so easily back into a different decade and make you feel as if you yourself lived through it. This musical with music and book by Ivor Novello was a conduit into a world of yesteryears. When courting was a process men did not mind taking their time with and pearl earrings were a commonality for women.
Performed at the intimate Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court in the show’s first professional revival since its debut in 1951, it serves as a backstage comedy to Novello’s Ruritanian romance plots.
What really drove this show for me was the brilliant performance by West End actress Sophie-Louise Dann. Dann held a certain bravado that bespoke of Katherine Hepburn. There was a timeless elegance that Dann possessed and an astute handling of her comedy. It was a performance that knew how to balance the style of the time Novello was writing in without coming off as contrived or forced. Dann gave the audience a portal into a wonderful time period that was so carefree even though it was set against the backdrop of the Cold War and had just seen the horror of two world wars. There was a kindness to Dann’s performance and a tip of the hat to those members of the audience that undoubtedly knew this era so well.
Helena Blackman, who played the budding actress to Dann’s experienced entertainer, held her own in the presence of a quite seasoned cast. Blackman, who herself has a look akin to Greta Garbo, gracefully filled the shoes of the ingénue who learns to take a more active role in her professional and love life. Blackman assuredly will have a great career if she continues to choose roles that allow her to use her amazingly controlled vocals and her spunky acting chops.
These two actresses took the reins of the show and led it with much elegance and comedy. But I would be doing this review a disservice if I did not mention the amazing voices of the cast on a whole. The men who filled up the chorus held amazing harmonies that were reminiscent of barber shop quartets with as much sweetness and playful energy. The cast so easily stepped into the world of Cole Porter, Humphrey Bogart and Laurence Olivier.
Stewart Nichols, director and choreographer, used the space cleverly. Being produced in a small fringe theatre did not stop Nichols from using the sort of choreography that one longs for in a period musical such as Gay Is The Word. I have much respect for directors who are not limited by the kind of space they work in, especially when they do not feel the need to go over the top or make up for the size. This production knew its location and respected it.
This was a lovely night of theatre. I just cannot reiterate the coziness of the space and sweet performance of the cast. Truly this was a production that knew the value of a good joke or two and beautiful vocal harmony.
Performed at the Finborough Theatre.