A top class performance from all involved, but the choice of show was a hindrance, holding the cast back from their full potential.
First of all, let me be clear in saying how much I adore the Showstoppers team, and how incredibly talented they all are. However, I can’t say that their latest show really did it for me.
The latest production they put on was Sondheim’s Follies, a wistful tale of nostalgia and reflecting on past selves. The story is set at the Weismann, a theatre soon to be knocked down, where a party is being held- a reunion of the wartime showgirls; a last hurrah before it all ends. The story then mainly focuses on two friends: Sally Plummer (Angharad Morgan) and Phyllis Stone (Bella Norris), and their husbands, as each tries to deal with their broken marriages. Sally’s husband, Buddy (Billy Boulton), is still desperately in love with her, despite her obvious infatuation with Phyllis’ husband, Ben (Andy Banks). As the two couples argue, they are haunted by the memories of their past selves, reliving the mistakes they made as young adults.
It seemed to me an odd choice for a student theatre company to put on a production which centres around a group of middle-aged characters. That is not to say that these actors are incapable of playing roles so unlike themselves, in fact each of the main four had a real gift of expressing lived lives despite their own youthfulness. However, it always just felt like they had to all work that bit harder than usual to be believable.
The first time that we meet not just the main two couples, but their younger counterparts (played by Charlie Taylor, Phoebe Alicia Armstrong, James Carter and David Miller, respectively) is the musical number ‘Waiting for the girls upstairs’ in which Buddy and Ben reflect on the good old days of hanging around the theatre to impress the girls. This scene really did have a nostalgic buzz surrounding it, and it felt like a real novelty to have both the older and the younger versions there side by side. In this scene, having both worked. However, later on, when we have sequences which include the older and younger versions of multiple characters, it became very busy on stage and felt overcrowded. This is where the real problem of the narrative arose; there were just too many characters present, and not enough reasons given to care that much about any of them. Even the four leads, despite the fact they were all played well, weren’t necessarily likeable – and yes, I can appreciate full well that that’s the point, but in a show with a runtime as long as this one, it can cause the story to drag when you don’t really care what’s going to happen to the characters. (Side note: when we got to the end and a resolution was found, it was a very unsatisfying one).
Saying all this of the show’s faults is not to say that the show didn’t have its strengths, because it certainly did. From its simple but well utilised set, to its wonderfully nuanced choreography; technically this show was a hit and pulled it all off without a hitch. As well as this, it was one of most consistent shows I’ve seen in terms of vocal performance, and the level of ability that this cast were working on was definitely a high one. I was pleasantly surprised by the cast’s ability to embody these older characters without too much trouble, and every cast member was given an opportunity to shine. The pit band were on point, playing the score in a way that seemed so easy to them, despite the fact that it probably wasn’t always the case. Stand out moments for me include the number ‘I’m Still Here’ in which Lydia Edge gave her absolute all as the character of Carlotta- containing every bit of pizazz you could hope for; and the gloriously sarcastic ‘Could I Leave You?’ in which Phyllis is a babe and goes off on one about everything her husband has done wrong in the last 30 years (another side note: I genuinely believe that Bella Norris can do no wrong in the theatre).
The second half of the show functioned much like a medley, in which each character was given the opportunity to get across their perspective. I mean, they all sang and danced very well, but to be perfectly candid, I had already lost interest by this point. I feel bad saying it, but the show is definitely much too long for the narrative it tells, and would have been much more satisyfing truthfully if it had ended much closer to the end of the first half.
All in all though, I find that my issues with Follies all came from the structure of the play itself, and because of the high caliber of acting, it was really hard to try and structure my thoughts and feelings about the show coherently. As always, Showstoppers were at the top of their game and continue to grow in their ability, both individually and as a company, with each show. However, this really wasn’t the best choice of show for them, and held them back from delivering what could have and should have been an engaging and brilliant Easter show. I have not lost any faith in the performers however, and am waiting eagerly for their next show in which I’m sure they will remind me of how much I love them.
Showstoppers’ next show is a homemade independent musical called Little Puddle, which is running in the Annex Theatre on the 19th and 20th May. Tickets can be reserved here.