Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Review: Charity in a faithless world

The Imperial College Operatic Society, regular visitors to Budleigh Salterton for over 40 years, returned to the town this summer, with their exuberant production of Sweet Charity.

From the very start, with the electrifying orchestral overture, it was obvious to the packed audience that this was going to be, as promised, a wonderful show.

The plot, for those who have never seen this musical, is fairly insubstantial, involving a dance hall hostess, Charity Hope Valentine, played with the perfect combination of winsome but calculating charm by Madeleine Wilson, looking for love (of course). But Charity is doomed to stay firmly attached to the Fandango Ballroom where she works.

We see her at first trying to involve a man she has picked up there, not realising that his own narcissism will not allow him to share, or even notice, hers. She ends up being unceremoniously dumped by him in a nearby pond.

Then it seems she may have hit the big time when she latches on to a famous Italian movie star who conveniently needs an escort into a club, which leads to some farcical and beautifully played scenes by the heroine when he later takes her back to his apartment.

Punctuating these comic (or tragic) scenes are some memorable set piece song and dance routines, including some very old favourites such as ‘Big Spender’ and ‘If my friends could see me now’, belted out with precision and gusto. The dances were beautifully choreographed, especially notable during the ‘Rhythm of Life’ scene where the crazy Sixties cults’ religious fervour is satirized.

The acting was excellent throughout. Particular mention should be made of the performance of Ken Carter as Oscar Lindquist, the awkward shy potential hero, who is, it transpires, just as unreliable as all the rest of the men. Madeleine Wilson’s presentation of the central character was superb, and her solo songs were executed with a true professionalism.

The musical itself is very muddled in its message; while giving lip service to the liberation of women, the heroine is shown having progressed no further by the end, even nearly drowned, again. I felt it was finally a play devised by a deeply chauvinist man as an excuse to expose pretty girls showing off their underwear, and highly anachronistic.

Not nearly so bad though I imagine, as ICOS sister company Imperial Productions' next venture in political incorrectness, which apparently involves a spoof on Hannibal Lector… but I don’t think that will be coming to Budleigh.

Text credit: Annie
Photos of Sweet Charity courtesy of Colin Parker

Imperial Productions' next Budleigh production will be Pickwick The Musical
Based on Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens
Featuring the hit song 'If I Ruled the World'
Sat 5 Dec 2009 in the Public Hall
Performances at 2.30 pm and 7.30pm

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