Reviewed by Samela Harris
Roll up, Roll up.
The Rep’s end-of-year romp into the realms of classic vaudeville is a night of raucous audience engagement and tears of mirth.
This is a wonderful tradition upheld by our oldest theatre company which happens also to be the oldest in the southern hemisphere, and quite a spectacle with the stage transformed to faux travelling tent, enabling the show to swing from high ham melodrama to assorted classic vaudevillian turns. Some audience members are still holding their ribs after watching Lindy LeCornu and Christopher Evan’s gloriously po-faced performance of the world-famous Balloon Dance.
Then there was Aled Proeve’s wistful rendition of The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom which soon had the audience completing the punchlines like some huge smooth choral ensemble.
Indeed, in many ways the audience’s performance on opening night deserves its own rave review. It was of strong and beautiful voice both in song and booing and hissing and cheering; for, indeed, there was a valiant hero to celebrate, an evil villain to loathe and a beautiful heroine to champion in Walter Boughton’s dramatic melodrama, Virtue Always Triumphs or Life in the Wicked City
Buddy Dawson has sprung miraculously out of musical theatre to save the day as Dick Truhart. This athletic young performer has a heavenly sense of physical comedy and an unerring instinct for the cornball. He plays it hayseed to the husk.
The object of his devotion is the hapless, innocent, unknowing heiress Charity for which part director Pam O’Grady has found the utterly divine Ashley Penny. Artful balletic physical exaggeration, a strong voice, an ability for split-second mood changes and the best howling bawl in the business put her in the upper echelons for melodrama stardom – for which, sadly, there is limited call today.
However, shades of the much loved Old Kings Music Hall of yore were ever present in this vivid and fun-filled show, not least when the bedazzling Mistress of Ceremonies, Penni Hamilton-Smith called upon the original Master of Ceremonies from those early Adelaide years, Mr Gordon Poole who, at 92 going on 93, still with that mellifluous British stage voice, was there in the audience booing along with the best of them.
Hamilton-Smith was true to the “ham” in her name in glamorous overkill, swishing about in blinding pink but, oddly, seeming almost to be sight-reading the show’s script when doing the absurdly alliterative introductions.
Also doing a lot of swishing was cloak-wrapped David Sinclair as the evil villain from “the city” whence all wickedness and depravity springs from the saloon bars and torture chambers. Raspy-voiced and evil-eyed, he pursued poor Charity with his gang of odd-bod thugs played by Matt Grohl, Laura Antoniazzi and Aled Proeve. Rose Vallen in black eyepatch was another evildoer as was Rebecca Kemp; not all that she seemed, as we came to find out. Tim Blackshaw and Annie Hall paired nicely as the earthy Truhart parents and Christopher Meegan pleased both with his twinkle-toed poise as the mysterious stranger and his lovely voice singing Danny Boy.
For, yes, there are songs for young and old, sing-alongs and knees-up in this celebration of cultural kitsch and, with Rowan Dennis on drums, it is the legendary Sandi McMenamin on the tatty old upright piano who gives the show its musical life. Move over Winnifred Atwell.
All this and much more is rolled into rowdy and rollicking fun by the expertise of director Pam O’Grady with a solid and seasoned backstage team, including Brian Budgen as scenic artist and Richard Parkhill on lights.
Give yourself a pre-Chrissie treat. Buy a ticket and live a night in laughter at the silliness of old-time shtick. It’s a tonic.