Sunday, 21 August 2011

Dame at Sea - Union Theatre, Sunday 14th August 2011

In the early 1930s, a Broadway musical is in rehearsal. Mona Kent is its temperamental diva star, Joan a wise-cracking chorus girl, and Hennesy the producer/manager/director. The naive Ruby arrives from Utah, with "nothing but tap shoes in her suitcase and a prayer in her heart" determined to be a Broadway star. Having not eaten for three days, she promptly faints into the arms of Dick, a sailor and aspiring song writer. Ruby gets a job in the chorus, but Hennesy informs the cast that the theater must be torn down, and they must find another place for the show. Joan and Lucky, another sailor and her former boyfriend, renew their romance while Ruby admits her feelings for Dick. Dick and Lucky persuade their Captain to volunteer the use of their ship. Mona recognizes the Captain as a former boyfriend. When Mona kisses Dick, to persuade him to give her one of his songs, Ruby sees and is despondent. Dick explains the misunderstanding and the couple make up. While rehearsing on the actual ship, Mona becomes sea sick; Ruby steps in to save the show and becomes a star The three couples decide to marry.
Mona Kent – Rosemary Ashe
Joan – Catriana Sandison
Harry – Anthony Wise
Ruby – Gemma Sutton
Dick – Daniel Bartlett
Lucky – Alan Hunter
Captain Courageous – Ian Mowat

Creative Team:
Book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller
Music by James Wise
Director – Kirk Jamieson
Choregrapher – Drew McOnie
Design – Kingsley Hall

Dammit, I must stop putting off writing reviews and then realising I’m so far behind that the show has actually closed. It doesn’t give you a chance to get to go see something I liked. Because you should have seen this, you really should.

Although I’ve seen a couple of productions that have started here at the Union and then moved to Wilton’s Music Hall, I’ve never actually made it here to the Union itself. We almost walked right past it – if you don’t know its there, you’ll never really see it, its so tucked away. And it doesn’t really look that prepossessing, let’s be frank. It was apparently a completely empty space until it was taken over by one of those far-sighted and highly driven souls who can look at coal and see the potential for diamonds. Not that there are many obvious diamonds out front – the guy who takes your ticket also serves you at the bar and the toilets – well, the thought still makes me shudder and go ick, frankly. There was something from Quatermass growing on the wall by the hand towel and another bit that looked like the Before bit in the ads for anything that kills 99.9% of all known germs DEAD. I suspect that anyone expecting glamour in the auditorium would run screaming from the room unless they found out beforehand that the seats were Glyndebourne chuckouts (totally true, and very comfy they were too, thank you). This is Functional Theatre, my friend.
But Functional doesn’t necessarily mean Bad Show. And in this case, far from it. I confess that I had been in a foul mood for most of the day beforehand, but even I managed to come out smiling at the end, having spent a couple of hours enjoying probably the silliest show ever written. For Dames at Sea, my friends, is a parody of those "Leading Lady Falls Ill On Opening Night, New Kid In Town Goes Out There A Chorus Girl And Comes Back A Star" movies that  were going out of fashion even while Dick Powell was still doing his darndest to convince us he could play the Juve at 56. They don’t write ‘em like that any more – shame! But in the absence of the original, parody will do me just dandy, thanks. Make it a really good parody and I’m even happier. If its performed with gusto by a troupe of talented singers and dancers then hey, I might even crack a smile. Yes, the performance space was cramped to the point where those in the first row were in danger of being decapitated by a chorine’s kick; yes, Rosemary Ashe’s make up seemed to have been put on by a blind man with a trowel (still not quite sure whether this was deliberate or not) and yes; tall people need to duck in case they take out one of the spotlights but when there is clever choreography and a cast who know just how far to push parody before it becomes ridiculous, who cares?

Usually played with a cast of just six, the Union have managed to stretch their budget to accommodate three chorines of each sex, which I was very glad of; I think it would have looked a bit thin otherwise. As it is, all 12 on stage work their asses off. And they can all sing, and they can all act and they can all dance and dammit they can all do all three at the same effing time and I hate their guts for being so talented. The redoubtable Rosemary Ashe gives keeping up her very best shot and who can blame her if she sometimes looks knackered and in desperate need of a fag, a stiff drink, 10 minutes’ sit down and a good cough. Even her wig looks like it would appreciate a nice bowl of cold water by the second half but she keeps on hoofin’ while rivers of perspiration make slabs of makeup run down her face. I’m not going to pick out any of the principals for special mention, but a chorine, Meg Gallagher, for what I think used to be called “moxie”. Jesus that girl can hoof it. And for the very first time I think I began to understand what people mean when they say a girl has legs up to her armpits.

Even the interval was entertaining – as me and Him Indoors grabbed some fresh air outside, a specimen of the type known as My Wonderful Urban Life minced past. Cropped vest showing carefully trained abdomen muscles and carefully cultivated tan, shorts and expensive trainers, Victoria Beckham-esque shades, iPod, a couple of those big paper bags with string handles you get when you buy expensive clothes and Something From the Designer Deli Around The Corner For Dinner. A Walking Cliché, in fact. I laughed almost as much as I’d been doing during the first half of the show.

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