Tuesday, 25 June 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: You're A Good Man Charlie Brown - The Art Theatre, New Mills.

First of all, for anyone who has never been there before, it is worth a visit to New Mills just to see inside the theatre itself. A true old-style music hall from the Victorian age (complete with royal boxes), and at 400 seats capacity the venue is a real gem. It is very pleasing to see it still going strong after considerable maintenance work has been undertaken and all seats now upgraded, courtesy of The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Many people below a certain age are likely to know little about Charlie Brown (unless perhaps they saw the 2015 film) although in his original carton incarnation, he was part of one of the most influential pieces of comic art of all time. The show is actually based on characters in the comic strip ‘Peanuts’ written by Charles M Schulz which ran for an astonishing 17,897 strips over a fifty year period, achieving worldwide success. With Charlie Brown as the principal character, the comic strip featured just a few children and a dog called Snoopy with both psychological and philosophical insights into their world, giving the simple comic strip considerable depth. Charlie Brown himself was meek and lacking self-confidence and ‘Peanuts’ covered many of the teenage angsts which are often carried into adulthood. In short, it was something everyone could relate to.

The musical adaptation ‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’ is faithful to the original concepts, with the characters and ideas very clearly defined. The music and songs, for the most part at least, tend to be quickly forgettable although pleasant enough to listen to but perhaps that’s the idea because this is a show about the characters with the songs principally a device to emphasise their inner feelings and desires as well as help the show along with a steady pace. The writer and his assistants were clearly careful to keep the essence of the characters and their world in the original Schultz cartoons.

This was a co-production of Bowden Theatre Works and New Mills Amateur Operatic And Dramatic Society and was a very slick and lively presentation. The backdrop and staging was deliberately painted in cartoon style with all the cast in bright colours and simple, representational costumes.The obvious enthusiasm of the cast was matched by all round sterling performances and great singing. Joe Hatton certainly caught all the right mannerisms as Charlie Brown, although his dark hair did a seem a bit off character; imagine Tin Tin or Asterix the Gaul with black thatches! Jake Ridgeway was particurarly amusing as Snoopy, the dog, regularly lying in a convincing slouch on top of his kennel. Freia Redel-Fisher as Lacy put in a strong (and at times, scary) performance. Sam Bolton as Linus, Grace Tildsley as Sally Brown and Connor Wyse as Schroeder all brought over very distinct characterisiations, recognisable to any discerning fans of ‘Peanuts’, with a fine supporting chorus.

In addition to the singing and actiong, mention must be made of the dancing, which typically required considerable physicality and slick, jumping moves to keep in sync with the words. The supporting cast also displayed great precision and timing, with a lot of the songs having pretty complex routines. Special mention must also be made of the five piece band, in particular the woodwind around which much of the music was based, in a typically Amercian Broadway style.

‘You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown’ is an interesting musical in that there is a lot of psychological depth to what at first glance is a simple story of adolescent friends. New Mills Art Theatre did a first rate job in presenting a complex and sophysiticated show and Bowden Theatre Works are definitely a company to look out for.

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 22/6/19

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