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The Darling Buds of May

 

Review by Milly Kotecha

4.5 stars

A Chorus Line is the ultimate introspective musical for any aspiring performer, and it serves as a looking-glass for the audience into the glamorous (or not so) world of Broadway and theatre auditions, as a group of hopefuls give their everything to became a part of the iconic chorus. The nature of the show is inherently risky: until the final number, there are no elaborate costumes or showy set design, and it is an entirely ensemble-led production.

The production first made its Broadway debut in 1975, becoming an instant phenomenon. Originally running for 6137 shows, this “show about hope” became the longest-running production in Broadway history. After a thrilling run at the Curve Theatre as their Christmas musical in 2021, the show now returns to the theatre under director Nikolai Foster, in collaboration with Jonathan Church Theatre Productions.

The opening number pulls you straight into the intense scene: five mirrors at the back of the stage, a group of hungry performers vying to outdance each other, whilst the overbearing director Zach (Adam Cooper) throws instructions at them. The innovative choreography by Ellen Kane, leans slightly more into a Latin style than the traditional sharp jazz, before dissolving into a beautiful ballet routine. Led by the sassy and yet precise dancing of Larry (Ashley-Jordan Packer), the audience are so instantly absorbed that the first cuts already seem to hit us with the disappointment on behalf of the rejected performers.

An added motif to this production was the use of a camera, primarily by Larry, projecting what was being ‘filmed’ onto the back of the stage. This was introduced as each character was in a line and stepping forward to give personal information, either showing a different angle of the person speaking, or giving a closer look at the reactions of the ensemble. Whilst my initial reaction was that the camera was drawing focus away from the person speaking, in the end I think it successfully gave a more intimate feel to the rehearsal room, and amplified the sense of each performer being scrutinised. Its sparing use throughout the show allowed for some creative moments, such as slow fades from freeze frames on the screen.

The production was fast-paced and relentless, emulating an audition process, which made the slower, more emotionally charged moments of the show all the more poignant. The pinnacle of the production was truly Paul’s monologue about his childhood experiences, and his transition into performing through the medium of drag. Manuel Pacific performed this with such tenderness, and the audience were so enthralled that a pin-drop could be heard in the theatre. The penultimate song “What I Did For Love” similarly pulled at everyone’s heartstrings, sung beautifully by Jocasta Almgill as Diana Morales. Despite the turmoil of potential unemployment, or the risk of career-ending injuries, we understand that it is pure love and passion which drives every person in that room, and our eyes are opened to how tough and uncertain the world of Broadway really is.

In a slight contrast, whilst the failed relationship between Zach and Cassie is another shocking moment within the production, the emotional force of the chemistry between the two was slightly lacking, causing the argument between the two to feel a little forced, too underdeveloped to be genuine. However, due to the ensemble nature of the production, this certainly didn’t impact the show as a whole, with each character getting their moment to shine when delivering the personal backstories.

The ending of the show can be described as nothing but magical. When the golden hat is lowered towards Zach and he dances in a dream-like sequence, our anticipation is built up towards the finale number. “One” transports the audience straight to a Broadway stage, with the whole stage drenched in gold due to the dazzling costumes, the glimmering golden lights, and the fireworks and confetti dancing alongside the actors. Here is where we see the power of showbiz, the glitz and glamour, everything that a musical has to offer packed into one spectacular number.

A Chorus Line is showing at The Curve Theatre until the 13th July 2024.

 

 

 

 

Review by Milly Kotecha

4 stars

The Darling Duds of May is a heart-warming play by H E Bates adapted from his novel of the same name. I would expect many in the audience of the Little Theatre would be familiar with the 1991 television series, which drew stars such as Catherine Zeta Jones into the limelight, and I can gladly say that fans of that show would be well-pleased with this production by the Leicester Drama Society.
The play follows the Larkin family, Pop and Ma with their six children, who live in rural simplicity in 1957 England. When a young tax official Mr Charlton arrives at their farmhouse to investigate, he falls in love with their charming eldest daughter Mariette, and is captured by the enticements of their blissful country existence. 
The Leicester Drama Society production of this play, directed by Mary Jones, perfectly encapsulated this sense of idyllic nostalgia from the get-go, with Ma, played by Zara Cain, and Pop, played by Andy Longley-Brown, both merrily bumbling on stage with their ice creams in the opening scene. The dynamic created between the couple by Cain and Longley-Brown was authentically humorous and fittingly loving; the motif of the majority of the scenes ending with a conversation just between the pair was thus tender and familiar. 
Along with Cain, Harry Wheeler made his debut in this show with the Leicester Drama Society, delivering a standout performance as the infatuated Mr Charlton. His first interaction with Mariette, played by Laura Heybrock, was necessarily awkward, but sweet and romantic nonetheless. Wheeler’s performance as a flustered young man solicited warm chuckles from the audience, adding to the light-hearted tone of the show. 
In a play such as this where all the action takes place in one location in a naturalistic style, it is important for the scenes to be brought alive to the audience via the staging. Set designer Jake Smart and lighting designers Jenny Harding and Martin Scott must be commended for their staging choices, making the stage both visually appealing and creating the sense of a busy farm. Immediately as people entered the auditorium they were greeted by the elaborately decorated set, from trellises with hanging flowers and a quaint fence, to a wooden dining table and cabinet full of drinks, all set again light purple and yellow lighting. Colour was then used very effectively throughout the show to demonstrate the changing times of day, with a glimmering deep purple wash signifying twilight, and rich brightness for scenes in broad daylight such as the cocktail party. A particularly breath-taking moment was in a transition in the first act, in which sunset lights washed the backcloth of the stage, silhouetting the set and the characters as if in a dream. 
As a whole the performances were impressive, although at the beginning some of the diction of the actors was lost due to intense overlapping sound effects as well as exaggerated gestures such as eating dinner noisily. However, this was not an impediment to the enjoyment, and this can be testified by the build-up in audience reaction. Act 2 delivered a greatly entertaining sequence of Pop trying to seduce the elderly Mrs Pilchester, and the audience cackled as she cheekily called him “naughty”. Elizabeth Spendlove played this character with a coy and flirty indignation, and she was one amongst many supporting roles who brought fresh dynamics to the show , as the scenes with solely the family in Act 1 were beginning to feel a tad mundane.  
The ending was positive and poignant, with a certain shock reveal about Ma being pregnant in the final moments soliciting a widespread gasp. It was lovely to see the play end as it started – an ode to the simple pleasures in life, appreciating the beauty of a peaceful homely existence. Theatre in many aspects is about escapism, and I think The Darling Buds of May is a wonderful show to see for an escape to the tranquillity of the countryside lifestyle. In many ways, the audience themselves are put in Mr Carlton’s shoes – I know that as I left the theatre, I certainly found myself contemplating the benefits of such a seemingly serene existence against the fast-paced city. 
The Darling Buds of May is showing at the Little Theatre in Leicester until Saturday 6th July https://thelittletheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-darling-buds-of-may/

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