December 9-January 14
The Star: An entertainment by Michael Wynne
You pays your money and you takes your seat, and what do you get? A mixture as rich as the best quality Christmas cake. This is an absolutely
fabulous tribute to the Playhouse in its 150th year as we travel back in time to The Star Music Hall. And it’s craftily interwoven with a plot which breathes new life into such old favourites as the star crossed lovers (not one but two lots), the leadng ladies’ rivalry, the naîve ingenue who, yes, faster than you can blink, is transformed into an overnight success. Not only that, hilarious embellishment comes in the shape of nifty local and topical references.
The setting is equally cunning, with scenes varying from backstage to behind the curtain, to the audience’s actual view of the stage. The second of these cleverly silhouettes the performances, most comically in the case of Arthur Crown’s novelty acts as he desperately seeking success – which actually works in a couple of astonishing scenes; the one with a taste of Egypt is literally magic. Danny O’Brien tackles the whole lot with skilful solemnity, embracing even the daftest of ideas, one of which happens to be a dea ex machina.
Formerly Sinbad in ‘Brookside’, Michael Starke turns out to be a treasure as The Chairman, as if born to play the role, the way he switches from bombast and ebullience to bathos and pathos. Eithne Brown, equally qualified, is sheer delight, wringing every little drop of poignancy, as well as humour, from her portrayal of leading lady, Dame Ellen, while the other star, Michelle Butterly, the duplitious, saucy Ida and The Chairman’s lost love, still manages to ignite our sympathy. Both of them sing beautifully, as does dotty Dora (Helen Carter), a dear little foil for lovable Jack (Jack Rigby); well-named as the indispensable assistant, adept at all trades, particularly when belting out ‘The Rest of the Day’s Your Own’. Many of the songs are familiar, but it was a revelation to hear some of the less well known, for example, Ellen’s gorgeous rendition of ‘I Want to Sing in Opera’.
Now, I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything – oh yes I have: Kevin Harvey, relishing every moment as Mr Charles, the new owner, a dastardly capiitalist, who plans to close the theatre. Not easy playing drunk but he does so with great aplomb, a villain with quite a few tricks up his sleeve, but always a sparkle in his eye,
Twinkle, twinkle indeed – what a scintillating evening. Whoever had such a brilliant idea for a show, the entire room must have been punching the air with glee. Which, more or less, is how this was greeted by the delighted audience: roaring with laughter, sighing with appreciation and singing along with gusto. It’s educational, entertaining, extraordinary, exceptional, exquisitely done, and …unmissable.