Angela Ferguson went along to the Forum Studio Theatre in Chester to watch the surreal show that was Great British Soap Opera the musical. Cast photos courtesy of Tip Top Productions. Other pics: Angela Ferguson.
A trip to Chester’s Forum Studio Theatre is kind of like setting foot inside a theatrical Tardis. You never quite know where you are going to be taken when the doors shut – but one thing is for sure – you know you are in for one hell of a ride.
Now, indulge me if you will as I stay with the Doctor Who analogy. Tip Top’s main man Peter Swingler would surely make an epic Doctor Who, by the way, transporting the audience from this intimate theatre in the heart of Chester to a whole galaxy of far flung destinations, courtesy of his assistants in the form of the talented cast and crew from Team Tip Top.
On this particular occasion, we’re taken to Planet Soap Opera for a musical with a difference. Tip Top certainly like to push themselves out of their theatrical comfort zone and the premise of a musical based on our beloved British soap operas was too good to resist.
Throw in the fact that Great British Soap Opera was staged at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009 and I was well and truly sold. I had to see it.
I was given a warm welcome from the moment I set foot inside the Tardis – sorry, the Forum Studio Theatre, enjoying a cuppa in the bright and cheery surroundings of the bar area before going in to watch a matinee performance.
It was also interesting to see an array of Tip Top memorabilia and props on display in the bar area. This theatre company have clearly worked flat out over the years, putting on a whole host of productions and proving they are worth their weight in gold when it comes to theatre in Chester.
And it was a nice touch to have a rolling ‘broadcast’ of fictional failing soap opera Victoria Square playing on the TV screen behind the bar. Then, as I took my seat, I could hear some TV adverts playing, ahead of the opening credits of the soap, which was set oop north.
Fair play to the talented team at Tip Top Productions, this was sheer fun-filled escapism from start to finish, with a hugely talented cast ably demonstrating their versatility.
They could turn their hand to anything from singing, dancing and dramatic fight scenes to emotive moments where we felt real sympathy for the trials and tribulations of some of the cast of the soap, including a powerful tale of coming out from Alex Aram as soap heart throb Alfie.
And in addition to their tip top acting talents, they also demonstrated their comedic acting skills, including a spectacular scene in which young soap star Chip (Connor Grace) reveals a fair bit more than expected as Mr December for the soap’s calendar shoot.
There were regular chuckles from the audience throughout, especially when the young cast pulled off a series of spectacularly hammy performances as they ‘filmed’ scenes as their soap opera personas. These were rib achingly funny and so wondrously over the top as to put me in mind of the stellar performances from legendary ‘actor’ Bo Beaumont (Mrs Overall aka Julie Walters) and her friends from Acorn Antiques.
The cast had a natural chemistry, with liberal doses of high drama interspersed with high comedy and a few surprises thrown into the mix.
It was fascinating to watch the macho posturing of soap heart throb Josh (Ollie Hale), whose head is turned by new kid on the block – southerner Sophie (Brogan Craine). Meanwhile his screen wife and secret real life girlfriend Jenny (Becki Sheppard) is heartbroken at the thought of losing Josh to Sophie and decides to fight to save the romance.
Egotistical soap stars
Annie May Howarth carried off a seemingly effortless performance as beleaguered and savvy make up artist Emily, running around looking after the demanding cohort of egotistical soap stars.
Bravo to all at Tip Top, including director Phil Cross, who was involved in the original Edinburgh Festival production, and producer Luke Disley, who has also done a sterling job here. I cannot wait to catch the next show from Tip Top Productions.