A proper Cockney knees up

"Me and My Girl" performed at the old Eyemouth High School. Opening scene.
"Me and My Girl" performed at the old Eyemouth High School. Opening scene.

MUSICAL

Me and My Girl

Eyemouth High School

I was one of many people who walked up the ‘apples and pears’ to the entrance of the old Eyemouth High School last Thursday for the opening night of Eyemouth Variety Group’s latest production.

Now doing some pre-show research I quickly discovered that the show which first opened in London in 1937 wasn’t one I was familiar with. The plot didn’t ring any bells and ‘The Lambeth Walk’ and ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ aside, neither did any songs.

Throw into the mix the fact that I’d never seen an Eyemouth Variety Group show before, all of which meant I could watch the cast tread the boards without any preconceptions.

As the curtain went up the audience would be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled onto the cast of a BBC period drama; the costume department certainly excelled themselves. It wasn’t just the high-class wardrobe that gave an air of sophistication to proceedings. The residents of Hareford Hall, all gathered to hear some life-changing news, were certainly born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

Now trading in their natural Eyemooth twang for RP English must have been a testing challenge but all of the cast from principals to chorus passed with flying colours. Their accents could cut glass and certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on the Six O’Clock News; I’m sure the Queen herself would be nodding in approval if she saw the show.

David Ireland and Christine Henderson took to the roles of Lord and Lady Battersby with ease as did the thoroughly entertaining Elizabeth Kay as Lady Tring and Craig Rosie as Charles the butler.

The unmistakeable lady of the manor was the Duchess, played by Maureen Gillie. This was a role that not only required a stiff upper lip but also fantastic stage presence and Maureen certainly showed she had both. If I was to single out one person for being ‘the best toff’ it would definitely be her. She had a lot of interesting dialogue and a solo spot in ‘Song of Hareford’ but her accent never slipped.

The Duchess was tasked with trying to restore some calm to Hareford after the shock announcement there was a new heir to the Hareford fortune - Bill Snibson, a man who was definitely more pie and mash than champagne and caviar.

From the second he made his entrance in a particularly snazzy suit, Steve Sadler made the character of Bill his own. While his shocked relatives would easily fit in on an episode of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, Bill was cut more from ‘Only Fools and Horses’ cloth. With some top notch rhyming slang that shocked his Carrie Grant (Aunt), Bill certainly made an unforgettable first impression, as did Steve.

One eye that was certainly drawn to the interesting newcomer was that of the Duchess’ daughter Jacquie, played by co-producer Andrea Thacker. Resembling Catherine Zeta Jones in ‘Chicago’ with a flapper-style haircut and dress to match, like her fellow thespians Andrea commanded the audience’s attention from the off and her diva-like intentions were laid bare, almost quite literally in the suggestive ‘You Would If You Could’; a terrific duet with Steve and a definite stand-out moment.

However, there were two people on the sidelines, Jacquie’s long-suffering love interest Gerald (Campbell McNeil) and Bill’s London lover Sally (Lyn Manderson). As Gerald, Campbell took geek chic to a new level and Lyn would definitely be leading lady material should ‘Eastenders’ ever do a 1930s spin-off.

They got their chance to shine not only alongside their on-stage beaus in ‘Thinking of No-One But Me’ and title-song ‘Me and My Girl’ respectively but also in solo spots ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ and ‘Once You Lose Your Heart’. The former, which opened the second act, saw grins spread across the faces of everyone in the hall, from the cast to the captive audience, while the latter was definitely a tear jerker as Sally realised that she didn’t fit in with Bill’s new life as Lord Hareford.

If it hadn’t been for one particular song, ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ would have been the clear audience favourite. But the song that snatched that title was ‘The Lambeth Walk’. Without wanting to sound too cliche it was a right old Cockney knees up, led with gusto by Steve and Lyn. From pearly queens to Sally’s china plates (mates), it was like Eyemouth had become sarf’ London and when the cast made their way in front of the stage, there were a few of the audience who looked like they had to hold themselves back from joining the Lambeth Walk themselves!

Two people who obviously found the thigh slapping and rhyming slang contagious were the Hareford’s solicitor, Parchester, and Sir John. Tuning into the mind of the legal eagle was the job of George Kay, who excelled in Parchester’s calling card ‘The Family Solicitor’ while Sir John’s alias, Bob Lockwood, got into spirit of things in ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’ alongside Steve. Bill was like the male version of Eliza Dolittle, with help from Sir John, Sally followed suit and learnt to ‘talk proper’.

This finally earned her the seal of approval from the hard-to-please Harefords and gave the cast the happy ending that was required for a reprise of ‘The Lambeth Walk’. ‘Me and My Girl’ had all the ingredients of a great musical: toe-tapping tunes, an engaging plot and likeable characters and Eyemouth Variety Group ensured they were cooked to perfection. Flawless vocals, brilliant acting and eye-catching costumes and scenery made the show the theatrical equivalent of fine dining and the women at the helm, Pauline Greive and Andrea Thacker, should be proud of what they and their talented cast and crew rustled up.

SIMON DUKE