Posts Tagged ‘Ivor Novello’

It’s lovely sitting in a small room above a (soon to re-open) wine bar watching the first ever professional performance of Ivor Novello’s last (unfinished) musical, written a year before I was born and set in the land of my fathers. In some ways surreal, but rather delightful. Deeply old-fashioned, but completely charming.

The first act takes place in fictional valley town Cromidris in the summer of 1913. Highly successful local businesswoman Nan Brewster is the benefactor of the local choir. She impulsively decides to retire to Venice, taking her three retainers – Olwen, Gwilim and Lily – with her. This nips the romance of choirmaster David and his muse Lily in the bud. In Venice, Lily’s singing career takes off under the patronage of Count Favero, until the count’s background is uncovered by Nan. Lily stops singing and not even the arrival of David can bring her out of her depression. Back in Wales in the winter of 1914, the first world war has started and Nan has turned her home into a hospital, with the three retainers helping her run it and Lily still in the dumps. David has by now gone to the front, but his return as a patient rekindles the flames and it all ends happily.

It’s plot is a bit clunky and it’s perhaps a little sweet & sentimental for a modern audience, but the score is excellent (I don’t know how much he finished and how much Ronald Hanmer added, but you can’t see the joins!) and here it’s beautifully sung with just piano accompaniment by Adam Morris. Romantic leads Katy Treharne and Linford Hydes have the perferct soprano and tenor voices for Novello’s music and they do full justice to these lovely songs. Lee van Geleen has stepped in to play the more comic role of Gwilim and aquits himself very well indeed. Sandy Walsh and Jill Naider’s characterisations of Nan and Olwen respectively are excellent and there are nice cameos from Harrison Ross as a cub reporter from the Swansea Argus, Richard Mark as baddie Favero and Amira as Gwilim’s Italian love interest Maria.The chorius of eight sound glorious and provide some of the shows highlights. 

It is dated and it is a bit sweet, but like Gay’s the Word here a couple of years ago, this is an unmissable opportunity to catch an unperformed show by a 20th century master. If you’re interested in the history of musical theatre, you should be one of only 650 people who are going to get to see it! 

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The audience is only 66% bigger than the cast, but it’s a full house. It’s performed on the set of the play which occupies the same theatre most of the week. Only 400 people will get to see it (including 2 extra performance!). It hasn’t been revived since it was first produced over 50 years ago. Its crying out for a major staging & if it got one could be the sort of hit Me & My Girl was second time around (though they might have to change the title!). It’s simply wonderful.

Ivor Novello’s musical comedy starts on the stage of Manchester Opera House as the run of a musical flop ends before it gets to London (actually, the show within a show – Ruritania – is rather good). Actress Gay Daventry has lost a fortune backing the show. With start-up funding from a rich(er) fellow actor she gives up the stage and sets up a school of acting in Folkstone, surrounding herself with veteran teachers of singing, acting and dance. She struggles to make a living despite the arrival of a rich student and sub-letting to some smugglers. Of course, it all ends happily – this is 1950’s musical theatre.

The show has some great tunes and it’s very funny. Stewart Nicholls production sparkles. I think they’ve taken some liberties with the book but it adds to the freshness rather than spoils the original. It’s cramped in this tiny space (with audience all round) but this somehow improves audience engagement and enhances intimacy more than it detracts from the spectacle.

But it’s the cast wot does it and boy what a cast. Sophie-Louise Dann gives one of the finest musical comedy performances I’ve ever seen; she sings beautifully and is a master at comedy. Helena Blackman continues to impress with a particular affinity & suitability for this period, as she showed in Noel & Gertie last year. There’s a quartet of veteran ladies – Doreen Hermitage, Eileen Page, Myra Sands & Elizabeth Seal – who almost steal the show with the second act opener ‘Teaching’, Josh Little is an excellent romantic lead and the ensemble sparkles. We even get a cameo from Frank Barrie.

It is a huge treat and it must have a life beyond here. Bring on the Novello revival!

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