Anything Goes

Thu 17th – Sat 19th May 2012

reviews

Xandra Burns

at 08:14 on 18th May 2012

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On my way to this mysterious St Aldates Parish Centre, I wandered around the general Pembroke area hoping to come across it. I was distracted from my search by the sight of several strings of of balloons leading up to a door, since such decorations were just so cute, and it turned out that this was the very door that would lead to the - even more adorable - 'Anything Goes' venue. This kind of eye-catching thematic decor sums up the amount of care, effort, and pure fun put into this year's Pembroke musical.

Since the musical in question is the American classic 'Anything Goes,' which has been revived on Broadway and the West End several times, there doesn't seem to be much debate about the quality of the musical itself. Nonetheless, Pembroke has chosen just the time to produce it, as the show's sailor-themed light-hearted nostalgia is perfect for mid-Trinity term. The script's witty, sometimes cringingly punny, humor is matched by this production team's incorporation of funny props (if you liked 'Two Gents''s dog humor, come back for more) and small moments of choreography and staging that are surely not in the script, but are original additions and enhancements. The space itself creates the intimate refreshing summer atmosphere of a garden show, only without the freezing cold and worry of rain. Costumes, coordinated by Dorothy Hawkins, are particularly impressive, being consistently polished throughout. Leading lady Reno Sweeney (played by Elizabeth Biddle) appears in a different stunning dress nearly every time she enters the stage - very true to character, and adding a fashion incentive to watch the play's progression with eagerness. The choreography is simple, yet effective, and smoothly executed. The band is so well-integrated that their presence is often unnoticed, which is perhaps the best that can be said of musical accompaniment, as instead it creates the illusion that the music is simply there, part of the scene.

All of the cast members are enthusiastic and clearly enjoying themselves the whole time. The script allows for many actors to shine, and the cast take up this opportunity in style. Elizabeth Biddle as Reno Sweeney holds the play together with just the amount of swagger that her character requires, balancing belting diva with a cool charming presence. Callum Jackson as gangster Moonface Martin is particularly entertaining, with his voices and comedic timing embracing a very funnily written role. Nicholas Darvill's Lord Evelyn Oakleigh provides the appropriate subtle humor that escalates into a hilarious duet in the second act.

The best word to describe the production as a whole is committed. Everything about it seems well-thought through and carried out. There are some fallbacks, mostly regarding singing, accents, and microphone wires, but instead of creating awkward tension, these are faults the audience can come to accept given that the actors do not let them hinder their performances but carry on with smiles. Overall this production is so fun that if it were required viewing for all of Oxford, fifth week blues may just pass us by. As I sat down with the program and read their promise that "this is a show guaranteed to leave a smile on your face" I was skeptical, but fine, they win - it definitely will.

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Alexandra Sayers

at 11:32 on 18th May 2012

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For their play this year, Pembroke College have chosen St Aldgate’s Parish Centre to be host to a famously irreverent and often naughty musical featuring criminals, showgirls, and a half-skinned, half-drowned dog named Cheeky. At first glimpse the idea of the setting seemed oddly incongruous. Yet the space was perfect for the feel of the musical: mixing music-hall and village-hall vibes, the liberal bunting decoration, the raised platform as stage, and the conspicuous band set behind the action brought the space together wonderfully. It set a festive feel which continued throughout.

The production got off to a sailing start with the introduction of the trollied Eli Whitney (Nicholas Hilton) rambling both verbally and physically across the stage. His interaction with his lackey Billy Crocker (Samuel Elwin) was filled, on Elwin’s part, with an awkward deference mixed with ambitious rebellion, a mix which could have been made more of when they meet and re-meet as the play goes on. The sparkling entrance of Reno Sweeney, head showgirl and siren, set the precedent for the rest of the show: big voices and big laughs. Elizabeth Biddle played the character of Reno very well indeed, capturing the confidence of a seasoned performer with the connivance of a sassy manipulator, bringing in at times the vulnerability of a scorned lover. Perhaps musicals are that extra bit more demanding than plays in the fact that one must act and sing well in order to give a credible performance. As an ensemble, the show certainly pulled this off. Special individual mention must be given to Biddle, Callum Jackson as the gangster Moonface Martin, and Nicholas Darvill as Lord Evelyn Oakley, who all brought a dynamism to their characters that kept the momentum of the show alive.

A definite star of the show was the fabulous band, who really made Cole Porter’s songs shine. This musical has an impressive concentration of some of his best: ‘I get a kick out of you’, ‘Goodbye little dream’ and of course ‘Anything goes’, amongst others. The quirkiness of the lyrics, teamed with the faultless musical score, meant that even when the singers weren’t entirely strong in their delivery (which didn’t happen much), it hardly mattered. The charm of the music made up for any lack in perfect voice-belting. There was a nice play with the lyrics of ‘It’s friendship’ and ‘Be like the bluebird’: Biddle and Jackson performed such lines as ‘If you ever lose your teeth and you're out to dine; borrow mine’ with sufficient ironical detachment which added a good dollop of fun to the audience experience.

My one reservation was having so many of the cast in the ‘background’ of scenes which were intended as private duets, often between Billy and Hope Harcourt (Heather Young). I’m not sure that it worked to have so many on stage, deliberately frozen once the the lovers began to sing. It was the Billy/Hope songs in particular that gave an emotional weight to the show, and Young’s voice especially was so lovely that perhaps having the cluttered stage detracted a little from the emotional intensity. The great use of blocks as sea boxes/barrels with rope and rubber dinghies painted on them meant that the nautical atmosphere was always obvious: more confidence could had been found in the use of these good simple props.

All the supporting parts also deserve a mention as everyone - from the oddly arranged sailers to Moonface’s funny female sidekick to the feisty paparazzi reporter - played their parts with enthusiasm and liveliness. Indeed this was symptomatic of the wider achievement of the play as a whole: all parts were entered into with a warmth and a gusto that couldn’t help but charm the audience into lovely smiles and loud applause. The programme confidently writes that ‘this is a show guaranteed to leave a smile on your face’. Enter the hall with a fun and light attitude, and that guarantee will certainly be fulfilled.

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