Brighton Year-Round 2022
Directed by Mandy-Jane Jackson, Assistant Director Sarah Leedham, Musical Director Maria Dunn, Choreography Jasmin Panayi.
Stage Management Team Mimi Goddard, Rosalind Caldwell, Vicky Horder, Bradley Coffey.
Set Design Construction and Painting Tom Williams; Set Construction and Painting the Cast & Crew.
Lighting Design, Lighting /Sound Operation Beverley Grover
Sound Design Mandy-Jane Jackson, Maria Dunn
Costumes, Philip Castle, Mandy-Jane Jackson, Wigs/Hair Patti Griffiths, Monica Quinn
Photography Miles Davies. Poster and Programme Design Steven Adams, Trailers and Credit Sequence Gary Cook.
With special thanks to Margaret Skeet, Ann Atkins, Janet White, Neil Turk-Thompson, Richard Harris, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Harvey’s of Hove, Gladrags
Till July 16th then touring to Royal Spa Nursery School, Queens Park, July 27-30th
A summer lightning-bolt struck Dad’s Army co-creator Jimmy Perry after noticing how those TV scripts so perfectly fit theatre. Dad’s Army is am-dram, people with day-jobs pursue their duty by night. With co-writer David Croft – both living long past the age of even their oldest soldiers – Perry and the team’s actors creates such riveting comic characters they’re acid-etched on collective memory. No pressure here then.
‘How do they do it?’ asks a director. ‘Every BLT show has actors who perfectly fit their characters – and BLT’s production values.’ The miraculous thing about this production is how achingly close to the originals this casting proves.
Directed by Mandy-Jane Jackson, (Assistant Sarah Leedham), there’s a bonus too: musical director (and co-sound-designer) Maria Dunn (also Mrs Pike, a piano Busker of ‘Tea for Two’ and a Nazi Sailor) pulls together an Andrews Sisters singing trio and at the last a chorus of blissful wit and power. Laura Scobie. Holly Everett, Bonny Coakley also double as Nazi sailors and waitresses, and small choric characters.
Their set-pieces though stud musical interludes in wholly unexpected oases of cheeky nostalgia. There’s lyrics at the back of Steven Adams’ programme to join in too. It’s a show highlight, but in a cast of seventeen there’s many more. The directing team deserve credit along with choreographer Jasmin Panayi for moving this huge production so slickly, over a postage-stap space: which of course being BLT opens up like a Tardis.
It’s Tom Williams’ Tardis this time: a church hall with hinged set pieces, windows taped for bomb-blasts, that eggshell green matt paint that so sadly daubed so many seedy churches, with details like an office stage-right and a diminutive hall to its left. Teashop tables and chairs jump out at intervals, but overall it’s as flexible for storytelling as you’d wish – with Steven Adams’ crisply-projected wartime posters featuring cast-members for those Andrews’ moments. Beverley Grover’s lighting design/ops and sound operation manage morning and night, as well as bright days for tea-shops tete-a-tetes and cupped ears.
Plot’s simple enough. Four tableaux, the last two conjoined. So first there’s The Deadly Attachment where four Nazi sailors ah veto be guarded overnight and Scobie’s U-Boat captain turns tables (yes ‘don’t tell him Pike’ is there too) but there’s a bit of a tug involving Lance-Corporal Jones’ trousers that don’t go as the captain plans. But then we know why. Bill Griffiths’ Sergeant Wilson is really a safety-first man. Griffiths too gets that cavernous gentlemanly hesitation of Wilson’s just right. And exasperation at bad taste when ordered to don a dromedary horse’s outfit. But that’s to anticipate.
As does Tim Ingram’s close spit of Captain Mainwaring, who in the second scene – Mum’s Army – finds recruiting women for a secondary unit has its consequences, as he falls illicitly for Abigail Hart’s quietly eager but ultimately dignified Mrs Gray. Mainwaring making a fool of himself. We even get a final Brief Encounter scene. Ingram conveys the man pompous decency but here too his vulnerability – something this particular script explores far more than before.
Still offstage Mrs Mainwaring makes her presence felt in several ways in The Godiva affair after the interval, but that’d be telling. Mike Skinner’s dotty Jones with his superb bad timing (lovely singing voice at the end!) fears losing his friend Mrs Fox (comically rapacious Carrie Lambe) and pleads with his superiors to somehow win her back for him. Cue misunderstandings.
It dovetails with the sheer silliness of the Morris Dance outfits the men don , ordered to perform a par of the fete which includes a squabble over who’ll be Lady Godiva with ‘(tongue click) fleshings’ only Lambe’s Fox seems a perfect fit, but there’s Scobie’s Mrs Pike, and she’s not the only rival. Cue Wilson’s unhappy dromedary moment and the finale, where Graeme Muncer’s grumpy self-inflated Chief Warden Hodges who almost never takes off his important white helmet bickers about whether he of Mainwaring will conduct the choir. This is Dunn’s set-piece, as the trip-ups continue right to the end, but with despite everything a great choral sound.
Huge shout out here for costumes by Philip Castle and Mandy-Jane Jackson, with wigs/Hair by Patti Griffiths and Monica Quinn. The cast too show lightning promptness in costume-changes.
There’s brilliant characterisation by Gerry Wicks of Private Fraser, catching Laurie’s hypocritical Presbyterian with a leery taste for the damned, eyes rolling (unnerving Skinner’s Jones). Towering spiv Paul Morley makes an equally elegant Private Walker, generous with a hint of danger, doubling as Fox-puller Gordon, Town Clerk. Harry Atkinson’s shambolically poised as Private Godfrey, again winningly close to Arnold Ridley’s original, here mainly anxious over his prissy sister’s morals more than his bladder. Jamie Cranfield’s Private Pike exudes just the right pathos, petulance and lumpen haplessness, forever one feels wedded to his scarf.
Samuel Masters is a chameleon. As the ramrod colonel in the first scene he’s a vertical khaki-and-red; an RAF serviceman truculent at being asked to push off; a confused boy and finally bespectacled Vicar unable to control the violent tide of feelings washing over the hall. Set-designer/builder Tom Williams pops up as the affronted Verger too. Allison Williams, another Nazi sailor, emerges as anxious Mrs Prosser; and there’s secondary parts for Abigail Smith who latterly enters as busybody Mrs Hart, Scobie as Mrs Parish, Everett as Ivy Samways, Coakley as Mrs Prosser.
The whole team above deserve huge credit for this summer fizz so consummately stoppered. Final credits though – as appropriate to the designer of the credit sequence and trailers – go to Gary Cook for recreating with cast and crew a true homage to the Dad’s Army TV sequence in a place curated by Sussex Wildlife Trust. Cast members lurk about bushes and move onto battle-terrain not unlike those original 1970s moments; with stills by Miles Davies, and Adams’ posters. As the screen credits troll – you can see it on Facebook – you feel you’ve been part of an invited audience at one of the original TV productions.