Sunday, 27 October 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Bugsy Malone - The Storyhouse, Chester.


Only my second visit to Chester's Storyhouse Theatre, situated most conveniently and prominently in the centre of the old city, and in the same building as a restaurant and the city's library. A veritable 'storyhouse' indeed. And the show I had come to see also is quite a story in itself, especially for the society, Castaway Theatre, an amateur youth theatre company returning to the show they presented as their inaugural production twenty years ago, Bugsy Malone.

The film of Bugsy Malone (1976) was Alan Parker's directorial feature debut, and is a comedy spoof Muscial set in New York during The Prohibition. What made the film outstanding was that it cast only child actors to play all the roles, and instead of actual bullets, the now iconic 'splurge guns' which fire whipped cream were first seen. It also gave child actress Jodie Foster one her first big breaks in the role of Tallulah. The film was rewritten as a stage musical and has become a firm favourite on both sides of the Atlantic for youth drama companies, as the roles are adult-children and the family-friendly script along with fast-paced witty dialogue, some wonderfully catchy and emotive songs, all make for a truly enjoyable production whether acting in it or as an audience member.

The one thing that does tend to be forgotten is that the Musical has real historical roots, and the characters are based (albeit loosely) on real people. The Prohibition did indeed exist, and Speakeasys were set up illegally and were run by enterprising businessmen who weren't afraid of crossing the legal line. Fat Sam is the comedy alter-ego of Al Capone, whilst Dandy Dan could be said to be modelled on Machine Gun Kelly, and Bugsy Malone himself is clearly a comedy quick-step away from Bugs Moran. Whilst Fat Sam's mol, is quite obviously meant to be Tallulah Bankhead.

Castaway Theatre must have a huge membership, since the company utilised two different casts during their short 4-performance run at The Storyhouse, each cast numbering about 90 children and youths. - Admittedly there were some doubles, but nevertheless, a mightily impressive number to fit on the stage at any one time. I apologise in advance to the cast I did not see, and can obviously only comment on those I did watch on the last performance of the run, this evening.

Heading a very strong cast was the lovely natural and personable Oliver Davies as Bugsy Malone. A sometime narrator and plot-developer, he becomes his own story, as he falls in and out of luck, as the bullets, sorry whipped cream, flies all around him. He was the only one this evening to have a consistent and perfectly placed NY accent, and his acting, singing and dancing was highly creditable. Love interest with Bugsy is provided for in the form of a rather frumpy but talented would-be Hollywood starlet, Blousey Brown. Her ability at listening and reacting was highly noteworthy and she had a beautiful and powerfully emotive singing voice for her heart-felt solos.

Sameer Dhanjee and Sam Sheridan made a powerful combination in the forms of inept comedy gangster Fat Sam and organised, cold-hearted, professional Dandy Dan, whilst they both had a gang of mostly baffoon-like or even cartoon-like sidekicks, each with their own individual character.

Nadzieja Nowakowska played the roll of Tallulah with just the right amount of sass, using her feminine wiles to good effect and placing Bugsy in more and more trouble with Blousey. Her Act 2 opening song was lovely, and very well sung.  A very strong supporting cast and excellent ensemble work: everyone was in the zone all the time, and even though the action never focused on the chorus work - especially in Fat Sam's Speakeasy, they were completely focused at all times and made some lovely naturalistic movements behind the main action.

A special mention should also be made of the minor roel of Fizzy played by Alfie Connolly. A part-time piano-player and cleaner at the Speakeasy, whose solo song 'Tomorrow' was excellently sung considering his having to master a vocal range which took him from boy treble to a high falsetto, and I have the feeling that his voice might also be on the change too, so even more commendable. I would have liked to have seen him dance more though.. the girl coming on with a semi-tap routine didn't work for me I'm afriad.

I liked the idea of the set very much, a Speakeasy on several levels with a central staircase worked excellently for those scenes, and bringing in a cloth on the apron-front for the street scenes etc worked well. I just wondered why the other scenes, which were not in the Speakeasy were still using the Speakeasy set. This I found a little confusing, and would have preferred a more obvious and distinct set change for thsoe scenes, even if it was only using another tab. All the costumes looked more-or-less authentic, and the flapper dresses colour-co-ordinated for the dancers. A visual feast.

The music (Wendy Dickinson) was excellent, and never overpowering. Dickinson had created an authentic sound and the youths responded to her direction superbly. The choreography (Sarah Walker) was age- and ability appropriate, and was for the vast majority true to the decade. Director Karen Partington had the unenviable task of rehearsing two sets of cast and co-ordinating everything to bring it all together as one cohesive whole, and this was managed with seeming ease.

A very enjoyable evening spent in the company of a group of youngsters who have oodles of enthusiam, commitement and talent and their obvious joy of performing was evident throughout.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/10/19






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