North East Essex Theatre Guild Adjudicator's Report
Clacton Musical Theatre Society
West Cliff Theatre, Clacton
1st January 2012
This was an unexpected outing for me. Until that morning, Andrew Hodgson was due to adjudicate, but was struck down with a bronchial infection. So off I went on a surprise trip to Clacton on a mild and sunny New Year’s Day.
Front of House
Andrew’s ticket was located for me and I soon found myself in a seat with good sightlines, so I could just sit back and enjoy the adventures unfolding on stage. The excited, wand-waving audience were full of anticipation and enjoying the glowing merchandise..
The availability of ice creams in the foyer and hot drinks or something stronger in the bar is always a welcome feature at the West Cliff.
The opening scene with the vignettes of characters was stunning, but more on that when we reach the technical section.
The Italian rocky bay backdrop and little shops suggested the village, and Pleasure Island benefited from a Big Wheel in the background. In the village, the dame was described as “Mamma” Macaroni on the shop sign but on the song board it was spelled “Mama”.
Geppetto’s workshop was massive and didn’t seem to match the quaint little exterior. It seemed more like a stately home room interior (to fit the width of the stage). Geppetto also had a clever-looking sweet-making machine.
I am conscious that the scenery was mainly hired in, and I don’t know which extra pieces were built by Peter Barnett and John Cook, so it’s more appropriate to praise John Cook’s stage crew for changing scenes and efficiently.
My only other comment would be that the whale’s belly could have been dressed up a bit with more props. Anything from a buoy to a pile of seaweed and maybe even a skull or two...witty and imaginative objects that the animal could have swallowed.
Loved the ventriloquist’s doll, but it would have been fun if it had been dressed to look identical to its master, like a Mini-Me.
Lighting & Sound
Before the show, the already-opened front tabs exposed a rosy-tinted backcloth with a twisted thorny rose – perhaps more evocative of Sleeping Beauty or some other more romantic pantomime. The proscenium with bathed in an equally warm glow.
Then we had a piece-de-resistance: frozen character cameos individually lit in turn, seen through the nostalgic haze of the gauze. This introduced us to the main goodies and baddies in a way that was visually stunning.
The lighting continued to evoke the appropriate mood for each scene – though, again, the whale’s stomach could have been a bit darker and possibly augmented with a shimmering ripple effect.
But the fairy always had her beautiful bright spot, the quayside was sunny, and Geppetto’s rather spacious workshop was lit to evoke this olde-world wooden interior. And the suggestion of blue starlight from the Wishing Star was subtle and effective. The spot on Pinocchio, singing in the cage, was positively poignant. Nicely done, by Keith Harris.
The sound was also commendable, from crowing cock to the quality of the singing and occasional backing tracks. Peter Palmer knows his stuff.
What a lovely start to the show as the Blue Fairy appeared in her twinkling costume of white and silver over a satin ice blue underskirt. Her phone, snazzy little “bumbag”, lovely wings and ringlets all summed up this slightly gossipy but very glamorous goodie.
The jointed markings on Pinocchio’s limbs were very good indeed, and his little lederhosen looked cute. I didn’t mind at all that his troublesome nose was part of a mask as this seemed to make the whole growing process easier. It also made a good contrast with his eventual translation into a real boy, when we saw his own face. Those playing the marionettes and toys looked just right.
From Geppetto’s leather apron to Jiminy Cricket and the Fox’s dashing Edwardian suits, all looked appropriate. The villagers were colourful and Stromboli looked wonderfully dastardly in his black outfit and cape, with twirling ‘tache and centre parting. As I mentioned earlier, an identical clone-like look for the dummy would have been fun and quite spooky.
The bright Harlequinade costumes on Pleasure Island were striking, and the polka dot swim wear for On The Beach was eye-catching too. Mama Macaroni’s costumes were as outrageous and colourful as you could possible expect.
The only real qualm I had with costumes, was the cat’s hat. It was so large that, in order to avoid her ears, it sat to one side of her head looking rather like a dinner plate. The cat costume itself looked lovely.
The quality of singing and dancing was admirable. Although some recorded backings were used, there was still plenty of live support from the youthfully talented Hector Moyes and his band. There were some good voices – and I loved Pinocchio’s heart-rending Somewhere Out There, sung in his cage. Jiminy and the Blue Fairy harmonised well, and the chorus singing and dancing was spirited, right through to the I’m A Believer finale.
The movements of the toys and marionettes had been creatively devised. The youngest toys were well drilled - congratulations especially to the little girl in green who stepped out smartly and smiled brightly like a true professional. The Fox and Cat entertained us very well with their duet An Actor’s Life From Me
The community “meatballs” song, however, seemed to go on forever!
Pinocchio - Congratulations to nine-year-old Harry McCarthy for a charming, assured performance that was full of both mischief and pathos. He moved and sang well – and Somewhere Out There was really quite moving. He tackled the growing and retreating nose with calm confidence. I look forward to seeing more of his performances.
Jiminy Cricket - Although I still long to see a Jiminy who gives a cricket-like leap from time to time, this was a confident performance from Lucy Harris, Clear-spoken, Lucy had good reactions. She should restrain herself from making “come one!” motions if someone’s missing their cue, but apart from that this was a very enjoyable bit of work.
Geppetto - Graham looked perfectly cast as the toy maker and gave the character an eccentric edge while never losing sight of Geppetto’s warm heart. If he was a little hesitant on a couple of occasions it was easy to forgive.
Mama Macaroni - I like a dame I can warm to, and I really came to care about Charlie Vaughan’s Mama Macaroni. Full of personality, this was an entertaining Dame, and Charlie sustained the energy of his portrayal all the way through.
Lampwick - As Pinocchio’s trouble-making best friend, Daniel Williamson did very well for a stage debut and I strongly encourage him to stick at it. At the moment he is a bit economical with his facial expressions and needs to work out what to do with his arms. All Dan lacks is experience and confidence to let his personality shine out.
Stromboli - Neil Murphie gave us a positively psychotic showman. He was dastardly in the extreme, using his dummy as an extension of his personality and as an extra person to bully. The costume, centre parting and moustache all looked great. Deeper you’re your average villain.
The Fox - Very stylish and posh, Tracey Williams’ Fox was a very plausible con artist. Tracey’s strong performance looked effortless and she wore the costume with panache.
TheCat - India Frank belied her youth and worked well as part of a team, as the Fox’s posh puss pal. India was assured and very expressive.
Pirate Leader - An enjoyable contribution to a successful whole. Peter Barnett gave us a well-judged head pirate and added to the fun of the production.
Chorus - Everyone acted, sang and danced to the best of their ability, aided by firm direction from David Thompson and Katie Barnett’s choreography as well as musical support from the pit. I hope that smartly professional little lass in green (Madeleine I assume) will keep on smiling through many more shows and that her supreme confidence will rub of on other youngsters!
David Thompson and the whole team can be satisfied that they entertained and amused us. It was clear that a lot of people had gone to a lot of trouble to create a cohesive and enjoyable show. The singing and dancing were good and we had some good performances. To have such a capable nine-year-old to take the lead role is a feather in the company’s cap for the company.
Thank you for giving me a lovely afternoon on the first day of a brand new year.