Following a long absence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Chester Operatic Society made a successful return to Storyhouse this week with a production of Me and My Girl. We Are Chester’s Paul Crofts went along on opening night to bring us this review.
Having seen Singing in The Rain, Chester Operatic Society‘s previous production at Storyhouse, back in 2018, I was really looking forward to seeing them finally return to the stage with Me and My Girl.
Described as “the happiest show in town”, Me and My Girl tells the story of apologetically unrefined Cockney costermonger, Bill Snibson (Dan Coleman), who learns that he is the 14th heir to the Earl of Hareford. His newly discovered aristocratic relations are horrified and bringing him to Hareford Hall, they attempt to educate Bill into the ways of the gentry and to separate him from his cockney girlfriend Sally Smith (Laura Morris).
The show features a host of hilarious characters from snooty lords and ladies to salt-of-the-earth Cockneys and Pearly Kings and Queens, together with witty one-liners and toe-tapping uplifting, well known songs including The Lambeth Walk, The Sun Has Got His Hat On and Leaning on a Lamp Post.
The show’s opening number A Weekend at Hareford sets the scene as we’re introduced to the “toffs” at Hareford Hall, who are awaiting the arrival of the heir to the title of Earl of Hareford. Enter Cockney costermonger Bill Snibson played by Dan Coleman.
Coleman brings an assured presence and easy charm to the role, the cheeky chappie like a fish out of water in his new surroundings, Snibson is soon joined by his girlfriend, the equally unrefined Sally Smith, expertly played by Laura Morris. Coleman and Morris make a fine double act, as demonstrated by their performance of the title song, Me and My Girl.
The show is very much an ensemble piece and the casting of the other principals was also spot on. In particular, I loved Elliot Tutt’s foppish, silly ass Gerald Bollingbroke, which was pitched just on the right side of camp without being over-the-top and personified the typical English “upper-class twit”.
Amy Robinson was superb as the vampish Lady Jaqueline Carlstone, lusting after the new Earl of Hareford, her duet with Dan Coleman in You Would if You Could was full of great comedic moments complemented by Rob Steven’s playful choreography. Helena Stroud gave a spirited performance as the formidable Duchess of Dene, Steve Riordan was perfectly cast as Sir John Tremayne and Neil Allcock made much of his role as the family solicitor, great fun indeed!
The musical numbers in the show were all well executed and one of the highlights for me was Once You Lose Your Heart, beautifully sung by Laura Morris as her character declared her undying love for Snibson. This was absolutely one of the stand out performances of the night, bravo Laura. Act one closed with a rip-roaring performance of The Lambeth Walk which had the audience clapping along. This lifted the show immensely and sent the audience to the interval in an upbeat mood.
One thing that for me, marred the otherwise solid first half was that we couldn’t always hear what the main characters were saying or singing, the balance between the vocals and the sound for the pit orchestra not being quite right. Happily, this was corrected for the second half and we were able to enjoy a fuller, more balanced sound and to hear all the dialogue clearly. It made such a difference to act two!
Act two opened with a crowd-pleasing performance of The Sun Has Got His Hat On led by Elliot Tutt’s Gerald, full of 1920s and 30s style choreography. Rob Stevens did a fantastic job with this, although I think he missed an opportunity to turn it into one of his signature tap numbers. Rob’s choreography was on point throughout and hats off to musical director Wendy Dickinson and the pit orchestra for re-creating the authentic sounds of a 1930s dance-band, absolutely spot on for the period.
Between them, Rob and Wendy have done a superb job and I’m sure that some of the less experienced members of the chorus will have grown in confidence having got opening night under their belts. Scene changes in both acts were slick on the whole and, apart from one or two late lighting cues, which can be attributed to first night nerves, along with the minor sound issues in act one, the tech side of the show was well executed.
Other highlights in act two were Love Makes The World Go Round and Leaning on a Lamppost. The show closed with a spirited reprise of The Lambeth Walk, which once again had the audience clapping along. It’s not hard to see why Me and My Girl is billed as “the happiest show in town” and Chester Operatic Society certainly gave us a happy, colourful show which transported the audience away from the trials and tribulations of modern life for a couple of hours, a much-needed bit of escapism!
For more on the work of Chester Operatic Society, which is celebrating its centenary year, visit http://www.chesteroperatic.co.uk/.