Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Janys Chambers writes and directs the musical comedy, “The Harmonettes Go into Orbit”. Performed by a female trio, their, “tongue in cheek” retro style is the perfect mix of tight vocal harmonies and inventive choreographed comedy. Set in 1955, they sing some fantastic old numbers, dance, and use unsuspecting members of the audience to relate the tale of how the three women met, became a musical ensemble and made their way to the Edinburgh Festival.
We are introduced to the three main characters and their individual stories. Nancy, played by Charlotte Jones, is a glamorous Marilyn Monroe type who lives her life through the movies. Her parents are rich and desperate to marry her off to an affluent suitor. This doesn’t match Nancy’s plan in her head which is much more glamorous and exciting. To appease her parents she reluctantly agrees to marry Jeffrey, a goofy upper class type who is crazy about horses. Evelyn, played by Sarra Cooper, is a housewife whose ambition is her husband. Her main concern is that he impresses his boss and she impresses his boss’s wife, therefore leading to promotion in his job at the local bank. Ivy, played by Georgina West, is an intellectual and a feminist. She has a place at university if she chooses to take it.
At the beginning of the plot none of the women really know each other, however Nancy has an argument with her ambitious mother in a clothing shop were Ivy works. Ivy calls her a spoilt brat and this earns her the sack. She consoles herself by buying a milkshake in the new local milk bar where the other two women happen to be. Nancy is fed up after the row with her mother and turns up at the milk bar hoping to audition for a part in a band. Evelyn is there by chance. As no-one else turns up for the audition the women decide to form their own band, with Ivy the most reluctant of the three. Like all good scripts from the fifties the trio then have to learn to work together. Ivy has a secret which eventually comes out, there is a falling out, and it takes a catalogue of events to bring the three back together.
The set is an array of 1950’s colour, including cleverly painted flats that depict familiar icons that allow the women to slip in an out of their groovy costumes with ease, and offer some additional impressive musical surprises. A bar that doubles as a shop counter, vibrant red bar stools and a coat stand with various costumes that are hung in such a casual way that you can see glimpses of things to come. e.g I recognised a strip of leather that must surely be a bikers jacket. These simple props were used with comic ingenuity that had the audience laughing uncontrollably. The whole piece is greatly enhanced by slick changeovers and an idiosyncratic soundtrack beautifully executed by a scarily precise sound engineer. They wear head mics. and showed skilful control of their vocal delivery that ensured they moved as one even when there was additional demanding physical activity. Their costumes are bright kitsch polka dots and they complement each other in a blend of pillar box red, lemon and mint julep.
The night I attend, it’s sold out and there’s a pantomime atmosphere as the audience show such remarkable keenness to be involved. From the moment they appear the chanteuse have the willing audience in the palm of their hands. The plot, never losing its energy, is strategically written so it includes such hits as Secret Love, Stupid Cupid, Fly me to the Moon, Teenager in Love and more Their angelic swooping voices blend so well together accurately capturing the softness of the Andrew Sisters. The musical arrangements, by Georgina West, are tastefully sympathetic to the pre and post war era. Cariad Morgan’s choreographed dance routines are clever combinations of timing and positioning, leaving precise and accurate spaces for punch lines. They layer each others’ bodies as well as their voices. They step in and out of the plot with gusto talking directly to the audience and each player has the opportunity to shine with a solo numbers. It’s incredibly tight right down to theatrical asides that are dependent on audience reactions which they achieve. My favourite moment had to be their rendition of the, “Black Denim Trousers” the women gnarled and scowled looking as means as bikers, it like the whole show was shiny, teasingly wicked and comically brilliant. I laughed uncontrollably.