22 November 2009

Secombe Theatre, Sutton

Stephen Macvicar

Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera Company’s production of ”Babes in Toyland” recently at the Secombe Theatre in this the society’s 80th anniversary year. Thanks also to Dianne Norton for making the ticket arrangements.

I admire WLOS for giving this little known show an airing to a British audience. Babes in Toyland has some endearing qualities in that it is child friendly with elements of panto and fairytale yet remains an operetta. It doesn’t, in my opinion though, stand up to comparison against other youthful shows available. WLOS assembled a large cast and everybody contributed to a very interesting and brave production.

It is always interesting to see something new to me and different from the usual repettoire. I was therefore delighted when WLOS invited me to Babes in Toyland and indeed to make it special, I attended on my birthday.

I had heard various bits of information about the show but wasn’t sure exactly what was accurate. I had heard that it was written as competition to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ however Wikipedia states that it was written afterwards to perhaps cash-in. Whatever the truth, Babes in Toyland now has its own place in the world of Operetta.

As mentioned in my short overview for the NODA London Magazine, the show has some familiar and endearing qualities for a production at this time of year. We have many Mother Goose fairytale characters and the perennial battle of good versus evil. The audience boos the villains and cheers the good guys etc. In this way it has elements of pantomime but the music in this piece is much more sophisticated. You wouldn’t naturally put Operetta style music with a children’s show, albeit a children’s show for all ages. There were the cringeworthy puns; chicken stock, silent partners and Britney Spears to name a few. The areas which concerned me about the show were relatively minor. I couldn’t really see a world where a spider and a bear would have a battle. Indeed I felt that some of the Spider / Bear Dance could have been cut.

Having said that, I felt that WLOS made a great attempt to bring this intriguing show alive to a new audience. The kids in particular, in a fairly full auditorium enjoyed the action in front of them. The set was good with the house, the picket fence and the hills in perspective making a nice setting. The costumes were colourful and very much in keeping with the standard of living of each of the characters. I loved the toy soldiers. Lighting, Sound and Stage Management were all executed with great flair.

It is clear that a lot of love had gone into this production and especially from Director, Madeleine Middleton alongside script editor and lead villain Al Clogston. Victor Herbert’s music is impressive from the bright and bubbly ‘Lemonade’, through the melodic ‘Go to Sleep’ to the operatic ‘Hail to Toyland’. David Harvey as Musical Director produced a good sound from both the cast and the talented orchestra. I enjoyed Mithu Lucraft choreography although I felt there were in general a few too many straight lines and semi-circles in view.

Your principals were well honed and the chorus seemed sufficiently drilled and rehearsed. Congratulations to your creative team.

This was a true ensemble production as your chorus backed up the principals royally but I have written a few individual notes on some of the principals who all had challenging and diverse parts; In programme order:

Uncle Barnaby – Al Clogston – Al seemed to revel in what was essentially a traditional panto villain role. Not to mention all his other production roles, Al glued the production together

Jane – Friesia Schuil – Friesia has an engaging stage presence and backs that up with a fantastic voice

Alan – Jaco Norval – Jaco looked good in the part of Alan and showed considerable vocal dexterity with his gypsy falsetto

Widow Piper – Linda Pullinger – Linda, resplendent in red, portrayed the necessary motherly concerns and mannerisms for her considerable brood

Contrary Mary – Alison King – Alison contributed greatly to the pleasant duet ‘Just a Whisper Away’ with Alan and also convinced with her acting skills

Tom Tom – Jason Thomas – Jason, the eldest of fourteen children, showed off his very pleasant voice in the duet ‘Our Castle in Spain’ with Jane

Jack – Ali Ghiassi / Jill – Emma Pearson – Not major parts but both Ali and Emma carried their characters with great skill

Little Bo Peep – Naomi Fieldus – Another smaller role which was well judges. I would like to see Naomi in a more challenging role in the future

Inspector Marmaduke – Robert Owen – Robert brought some ‘colour’ to the production as the ever so slightly camp Inspector. A very entertaining performance

Gonzorgo – Robin Clifford / Roderigo – Paul Sadler – Paul played the straight man in this collaboration leaving Robin to be the extrovert. Robin’s performance in particular was worthy of praise

Master Toymaker – Michael Howard – Nice mannerisms from Michael as the Toymaker made him a likeable character. Could perhaps have been a bit more extravagant but a nice portrayal nonetheless

Fairy Queen – Margaret Etches – A nice little cameo from Margaret including an impressive vocal in ‘Go to Sleep’

Other sub principles contributed efficiently and I must say well done to the kids in this production, they were well drilled and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The A4 souvenir programme had an excellent layout and there was plenty of interesting society reading to be done. Short biogs and especially photographs are always very welcome as it shows the relevant experience and growth of performers. The NODA section was very welcome too.

Once again thank you for inviting me to the Secombe Theatre and best wishes for your 2010 productions and in particular a very welcome return to Wimbledon Theatre for the fantastic ‘My Fair Lady’.

I look forward to seeing you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest Regards

Stephen Macvicar


London Area 3


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