Let me be quite clear, I am not a regular attender of theatre productions, far less musical theatre, so I do not pretend to be an aficianado.
It’s not that I don’t respect and appreciate the talents and skills of the performers, it’s more that I rarely feel moved to experience the story-lines. I do, however, feel that this stage production by Berwick Operatic Society truly deserves a mention.
Right from the start my expectations were raised when I saw the programme with its cover presented in the style of the familiar Haynes car workshop manuals; and then I noted that the music was by David Arnold.
On taking my seat I was treated to a preview of the stage set as the curtains were open.
This revealed a dimly lit sparsely dressed set with some dexion shelving, a couple of sewing machines and a table. Some boiler suit clad figures could be seen at the left side of the stage as if on a smoke/tea break whilst the small band were tuning up on the right.
The programme informed that this musical adaptation of the story had failed to capture the attention of the West End when it opened, but claimed that the story about communities, families and solidarity really does belong in the realm of community productions such as the Berwick group.
Rather appropriately, the opening evening performance was sponsored by a local garage; Tweedmouth Service Station’s Mitsubishi one. Given the portrayal of the Ford management in the show I imagine there might have been certain obstacles to any formal Ford sponsorship. I would, however, like to think that the portrayal of Ford management was very much from an historic perspective and they operate in a much fairer way now.
The situation on stage began to come come to life as the production got underway, introducing us to the principle character Rita O’Grady and her family as they woke up one morning. With some lighting changes and moving of props, the scene changed to take us to the River Plant shop floor, firstly introducing the female machinists and then the male workers.
Old habits die hard, and I couldn’t help but notice that whilst most of the boiler suited men were wearing industrial boots, two of them were clearly not adequately protected by steel toe caps – oh I can be so picky!
Beryl was a particular stand out with her earthy humour and outspoken performance. Gradually other key characters began to be developed – Connie Riley, Monty and Eddie O’Grady.
The story progressed rapidly, morphing through 12 varied scenes to span humour, poignancy and inspiration. The marvellous ensemble shone in so many different ways and sadly Act 1 was over far too soon.
There was so much to take in on the stage that I would really love to be able to find the time to return for a second viewing to see what I may have missed.
Act 2 started with a completely different mood, ‘This Is America’ was delightfully over the top with its American bombast, cheerleaders, sportsmen and high energy.
The blend of speech and musical numbers was enthralling, and the range of characters was wonderful.
Lynn Ireland’s performance as Rita was phenomenal and it was truly a joy to have been so close to the stage to really appreciate her range of expressions when not speaking or singing.
Another marvellous scene played out at the side during a musical number was the extremely moving exchange beteween Nicola Salonsky as Connie Riley and Iain Lowson’s Monty as he comforted her in her wheelchair.
Euan Duthie as the American boss, Mr Tooley, was an excellent ‘pantomime villain’, Bill Shardlow as Harold Wilson delighted the audience with his comic depiction of the Prime Minister; Kim Schmid as Lisa Hopkins and Kirsty Jamieson’s portrayal of Barbara Castle MP were yet more stand out performances. Slink Jadranko was great as Rita’s husband Eddie. And did I mention Dylis Guthrie’s Beryl – absolute gem of a performance!
I have to admit that I kept comparing the cast in front of me to their movie equivalents, and was not in the slightest disappointed. Whilst I have elected to highlight certain performances, I feel quite guilty not to have gone on; the others all shone in their different roles.
As with the first act, Act 2 was over all too quickly, finishing with Rita’s inspiring and emotional speech followed by the equally inspirational and uplifting ‘Stand Up’.
Well done to all cast and supporting team at Berwick Operatic Society.