It is safe to say that DULOG’s The Drowsy Chaperone moves from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The meta-theatrical opening was promising, as ‘The Person in the Chair’ (Ellie Jones) sets the scene with a voice-over. Even from off-stage, Jones’ strong stage presence was palpable, commanding our attention with near-perfect comic timing and an impressively consistent American accent. Jones truly shone in this performance, with her wit softening the clichés that fill the musical.
Indeed, you must be prepared for musical clichés with this show: roller-skating, unlikely romances, and (of course) jazz hands, fill the stage as the plot unravels itself. But this is much the point – the ‘Person in the Chair’ is sharing her all-time favourite musical with us, aware of its predictability and somehow managing to subvert its banality with her ‘real-world’ interjections.
The set works particularly well to further draw out the clashing domains. The flats, wall-papered with show posters, are visually effective, and the foil-curtain behind the door is as tongue-in-cheek as the performance itself. The small details on the book-shelves then do well to undercut the ‘musical’ action; as we witness dance routines in ‘the Person’s’ imagination, skillfully choreographed by Elspeth Wilson, we are distracted by the reality of a plate of biscuits and a ringing telephone. (Tech. was yet another strong aspect of the production – Kacey Courtney and Jonny Browning’s designs were simple but effective, and largely executed without a hitch.)
Credit must also go to the rest of the hugely talented cast. Charlie Keable was flawless as Adolpho, with impressive physicality accompanied by remarkably expressive eyebrows. Comedy duo Meg Osbourne and Hanna Khogali had the audience laughing as the unlikely Bakers-come-Gansters, whilst Maddison Heywood’s moment as a tap-dancing maid evidenced how the show was full of clever little details that truly entertained. Ros Bell’s compelling performance as Mrs Tottingdale, only slightly marred by a questionable choice of dress (the only imperfection in the otherwise excellent range of costumes – it was just a little bit too ‘fancy-dress’, even for the context), proved that she should take to the stage more often for DULOG shows.
However, aside from the aforementioned performance by Ellie Jones, Jen Bullock came closest to ‘stealing the show’. Her strong singing voice and truly spectacular dancing was simply perfect for Janet Van de Graaf’’s starlet persona. Bullock captured the irony of the character convincingly, managing both to keep a straight-face when surrounded by dancing monkeys, and to do the splits. Twice.
Last, but not least, Angus Macnaughton made a fantastic debut as a musical director for a DULOG show. I can imagine that music in the production is particularly challenging due to unlikely pauses in the singing, but Macnaughton and his band took this in their stride with some very professional playing. There were inevitable moments when the cast had to battle with volume levels, but I was grateful that these moments were few and far between compared to many student musical productions.
On the one hand, this musical is full of hackneyed concepts that would make even the most avid musical lover shudder. But on the other, it does not take itself too seriously, and director Liz Schofield manages to balance the ‘mundane reality of every-day life’ with the fantasy realm of a 1928 big-production musical in a way that stops it from being too overwhelming.
To quote ‘The Person in Chair’, ‘it does what a musical is meant to do, it takes you to another world’ – and it was a world that I thoroughly enjoyed, regardless of how bizarre it was.
Photography: Tom Mack.