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Ensemble

A Fabulous Night

Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' musical 'Sweet Charity',
strongly recommended by ALICE McVEIGH

 

I had a fabulous night at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama [London NW3, UK, 1 March 2016, second cast], in their intimate auditorium.

This is rather an odd show — never really made it into the handful of top musicals, despite such cracking numbers as 'Hey, big spender' and 'If my friends could see my now'. This might be Neil Simon's fault, as there always seems to be a discernible dip in energy in the second half, compared to the first, despite a few highlights. However, this was the best shot at making it work that I've ever seen.

Publicity photo for 'Sweet Charity' at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Publicity photo for 'Sweet Charity' at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Click on the image for higher resolution

For a start there was a wonderful seven-piece pit band (actually backstage band, as there's no pit at the Royal Central) conducted with verve, panache and an organic feel for style by Wendy Gadian. There was also exuberant choreography by Lynne Thomas — special highlights included the Pompeii Theatre sections and the show-stopping 'Rhythm of Life' — and very clever designs by Andrew Edwards.

Perhaps most crucially, the show was stunningly directed by Anthony Banks. I was intrigued to learn, from a Royal Central insider, that he directed the two Charitys quite differently, taking maximum advantage of their different qualities — so I was extremely sorry to only see one of the two artists who share the role. However, the one I caught, Holly Sumpton, is an extraordinary talent. Because this musical is really a vehicle — perhaps another reason for its comparative lack of popularity? How many musicals are basically vehicles, after all? — for the star, and Sumpton, luckily, possesses star quality in spades.

Holly Sumpton
Holly Sumpton. Click on the image for higher resolution

First, she has the kind of talent that can alter expression in a heartbeat — at times reminding me powerfully of Audrey Tautou, in the film of Amelie. Secondly, she has the kind of instinct, probably unteachable, of realising when a scene needs an injection of feeling or something equally subtle ... Indeed subtlety is her trademark — she has a pitch-perfect instinct for how far to allow herself to go ... I suspect she has serious range, as well: there were signs in several scenes of a quality far beyond that normally expected in musical theatre. Her comic timing, in the scenes with Vittorio Vidal especially, was positively wicked, though she wasn't alone there, as even some of the most modest parts in this production were beautifully rounded-out. (I should also add that the voice coaching of Elspeth Morrison and Annie Morrison must have been exemplary: the accents were astonishingly good.)

Aaron Bannister-Davies showed a hugely employable talent as the rather gormless Oscar, while Jamie Coles' Vidal was immensely enjoyable. Natasha Culley displayed convincing fury as Ursula, while both Ryan Heenan (as Charity's boss, probably the most gifted singer on stage) and John James Gulliford (in a stunning cameo as a zany preacher) took full advantage of their moment in the limelight.

Also exemplary were Charity's co-workers, particularly Helena Muir and Susan Taylor, who combined comic flair with a cynical world-weariness, strongly supported by Tiffany Parker, Jessica Joslin, Ruby Campbell, Kate Prior, Sophie Delin and others. There was also some terrific dancing — nothing like a young, passionate and powerful young troupe to swipe every ounce of energy from any such a show — especially when so well directed, encouraged and choreographed!

Strongly recommended. Go if you possibly can, is my advice.

Copyright © 3 March 2016 Alice McVeigh,
Kent UK

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There are further performanances of Sweet Charity at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London on 3 March (7.30pm), 4 March (2.30pm and 7.30pm) and 5 March 2016 (2.30pm and 7.30pm). Further details at www.cssd.ac.uk

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