Sweet Charity review: ‘deliciously funny’

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Trevelyan College Musical Society’s (TCMS) choice to stage Sweet Charity as their Epiphany show was an intriguing one. About a woman who just can’t seem to shake off falling for the wrong kind of guy, Charity’s story has a habit of drawing audiences in again and again. Admittedly, it was one of my favourite shows growing up; both the Broadway production and the 1969 movie starring Shirley MacLaine are known for their iconic moments. Therefore, naturally, I was apprehensive about what I might encounter, gearing myself up for an amateurish butchering of an all-time classic.

My prediction was wrong. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and Director Nicki Orrell should be commended for some genius directorial decisions. In her Director’s note, she makes clear that her vision for the show was to ‘bring out the many, many humorous moments’ within the script and I can testify that she succeeded; I often found myself snorting (yes, actually snorting) uncontrollably with laughter throughout. Her choice of using lighting projection to narrate the story only aided the comedy and was an astute decision on her part. This, as well as filtered lights and smoke machines (credit to Tech Director Jonathan Salmon and Lighting Designer James Rockliff) were little features that made a grand difference. Costumes were well-executed, particularly in the Rhythm of Life sequence – a panoply of spectacle and colour.

Unfortunately, I do question elements of staging. Understandably, to create a make-shift theatre in a college dining hall is no mean feat, however it was often the root cause of the few problems that occurred. Chiefly this was blocking, as characters were often visibly squished on stage. If planning before stage construction and tech rigging was slightly more accommodating, this problem would have been avoided and the downstage area more easily utilised. There was unfortunately a consistent problem with tech and failing microphones which detracted from the performance at times, whilst set changes were not as slick as they should have been. However, I am sure these teething problems will undoubtedly be non-existent by final night.  Nevertheless, I cannot fault Orrell’s handling of the script itself, which was quite frankly superb and had us all cackling in unison.

Personally, the success of this production boils down to two distinct facts. These were the strength of acting and the equal strength of choreography. Sadie Kempner, who plays Charity herself, was the show’s crucial ingredient. Her ability to capture the essence of Charity’s unwavering optimism, beautifully execute both the comedic and tender moments and display a strong vocal and dance performance, only ensured that the audience would fall in love with her by the very end. Both herself and Barnabas Mercer’s chemistry on stage was evident. Mercer (Oscar) had the audience in stitches with his nervous disposition. A favourite moment for all was the elevator scene, in which Charity’s calm complimented Oscar’s claustrophobic breakdown to splendid effect.

Celia Brown and Millie Blair did a fantastic job as the sassy duo of Nickie and Helene, whilst Danny Booth’s performance as Herman the dance hall owner was a treat (his outbursts of ‘ah come on!’ throughout caused repeated fits of giggles). Samuel Osman epitomised comedic timing in his portrayal of Daddy Brubeck and his scene was one of the most memorable of the production. Daniel Thomas, who played Vidal, also gave an admirable interpretation of his character. Yet at times he showed a tendency to underact or lack projection, which meant that some comedic moments were lost, particularly in the passionate scenes with Polly Beaumont (Ursula) – it would have been nice to have seen her boundless energy matched.

But in truth, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; each member of the ensemble pulled their weight, with a special mention to Hal Lockwood for his mesmerising facial expressions. Such a concerted team effort really makes a difference and this was a joy to witness. The cast worked well in tandem with the fantastic band, spearheaded by Musical Director Laura Buckingham.

Finally, it would be a crime not to applaud Poppy Biggs and Kathryn Tann for their fantastic work as choreographers. The highlights of the production were its spectacular dance routines. Big Spender, Rhythm of Life and the dance interlude in the restaurant (for which Millie Blair’s rhythmic style was captivating) all were choreographed, from feet to facial expressions, to a very high standard. During these moments of pure visual wonder, I often found myself willing the routine not to end before it was even half done, and this is a testament to the hard graft injected into each show-stopping number.

Despite minor criticisms, there is no doubt that TCMS have staged a production that is really something to be proud of.  Professionally executed and deliciously funny, ‘Sweet Charity’ delivers on a classic and then some. If you want an enjoyable evening that will leave you in fits of laughter and with an appreciation for all things theatre; head on up to Trevelyan College this week. Trust me – it’s worth it.

‘Sweet Charity’ will be performed in Trevelyan College Dining Hall from Wednesday, 15th February until Saturday 18th February at 19:45. Book your tickets here

Photograph: TCMS

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