first night

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Lara Dolden sees Collingwood Woodplayers' annual musical.

      ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’ follows the story of ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch who hopes to climb the career ladder by launching a charm offensive at international corporation ‘World Wide Wicket Company’. By following the careful steps of his how-to guide, Finch manages to grease the palms of his business associates and charm his way to the top. If you can overcome the misogynistic undertones and slightly archaic references, the show is a comic, if not slightly dated, choice.

   Performing in Collingwood dining room is never going to be the ideal setting for a show; that being said, producer Shannon Chatha must be applauded. The overall aesthetic was commendable with a simple use of the elevator doors and the garish patterned wall, creating the ambience of a generic 1960s office. In addition, Harriet Billington should be congratulated for sourcing such colourful and time-appropriate outfits. Considering the simplicity of the set, the scene changes should have been slicker. There were a lot of awkward and bumpy scene changes which could have been alleviated and saved the audience witnessing some uncomfortably long pauses between scenes. Loesser’s score is not an easy one, and this was definitely something which was noticeable in the struggling orchestra; although at times cohesive, the general impression was that the music was too difficult, rendering the overture and other potentially rousing musical numbers relatively underwhelming.

      Arthur Lewis, in the lead role of Finch, displayed moments of brilliance in his characterisation, expertly encapsulating the character’s glibness. However, I would have liked to see more differentiation between his moments of authenticity and disingenuousness; down-playing his more genuine moments would make the over-acting in his deceitful scenes more comical. Vocally, Lewis was incredibly impressive; moments where he really shone were during ‘I Believe in You’ in which, in typical Finch fashion, he pep-talks himself, and ‘Brotherhood of Man’. Meg Duffy’s vocals were flawless and she captured naïve and compliant Rosemary with ease. I was disappointed to note that awkward and unnecessary choreographed actions during ‘Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm’ detracted from Duffy’s beautiful singing.

   Lily Edwards displayed great stage presence and her characterisation as sarcastic Smitty was one of my favourites in the show. A particular highlight was the three-way harmony between Edwards, Lewis and Duffy in ‘Been a Long Day’ which established these three cast members as the strongest, both vocally and in terms of character depth. Other notable performances were in ‘Stand Up Old Ivy’, a duet between Lewis and Nathan Chatelier as J.B. Biggeley, which was probably the comedic climax of the show; however, whilst the larger-than-life characterisation worked for this song, Chatelier needs to be careful not to cross the line between funny and hammy and show more diversity in his characterisation during other scenes. Other highlights were the presentation scene; the use of a simple flipchart prop was effective and very amusing. Additionally, Finch conducting the orchestra when singing ‘Rosemary’ was a nice directorial touch from Michelle Jardim

Choreography in general was not the strongest feature of the show. Very basic actions, worsened by imprecise and clumsy movements from the chorus meant the dances lacked the sharpness necessary to make the choreography effective; this was especially noticeable in ‘A Secretary is Not a Toy’ and ‘Cinderella, Darling’ where a predominantly committed chorus was let down by a few lacklustre cast members. Additionally, in ‘Brotherhood of Man’, certain members of the ensemble failed to match the high standard and energy level set by Lewis. This was a shame because other numbers, such as ‘Coffee Break’ and ‘Paris Original’ proved the competence of the ensemble. For future performances, they need to ensure that their energy and commitment to performance is consistent throughout. 

 The lighting direction for the mirror scene during ‘I Believe in You’ was a clever use of props and lighting and made a change from the office setting. One easily fixed flaw was the performers’ very obvious dependency on the orchestra for their cues. For me, strong vocals were undermined by some very unsubtle glances to the conductor, which really weakened the professionalism.

   Generally, I felt like the show lacked slickness and was overall quite messy. The reliance on orchestral cues, the stumbling over lines and the general lack of energy in the chorus scenes were vaguely reminiscent of a high-school performance. That being said, a lot of that may be a result of first night nerves and can be ironed out, making Woodplayer’s latest production well worth a watch.

10 March 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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