first night

Sweet Charity

Charlie Keable takes a trip up the hill to watch one of the great 1960s musical comedies.

Considering that, unlike some other DST societies, TCMS keeps itself firmly within the college circle (or hexagon rather), I was somewhat unsure as to the nature of what my review should be. Should I simply be reviewing Sweet Charity independently or should I be critically comparing this production against the DST “standard” to inform potential audience members as one would for a non-collegiate review?

Well, in any case, to those potential audience members: go and see it. However, do bear in mind that this is a college musical. This, I must hasten to add, is not a criticism in any way, because although considering this does allow for the weaker areas of the show, it will certainly mean that many of the cast surprise you. I already knew that TCMS was for Trevelyan students only, yet the amount of talent they have managed to hoard up on that hill was still surprising. I then learnt about their insane rehearsal schedule comprising two rehearsals over four or five months, and of their ethos, which is to simply offer any Trevs student the chance—regardless of ability or interest—to put on a musical. To be honest, I wish I had discovered all this before so that I could have been knocked from my DULOG ivory tower more dramatically.

There were, of course, some problems with the show, namely microphones. Normally a reviewer would blame this on ‘first night hiccups’, however the microphone problems were so lasting and obvious that they not only detracted from the performance, but actually became frustrating. I understand that this could be an equipment problem, but if that is the case then one should plan for no mics. It must also be noted that projection issues should be addressed by a few members of the un-mic’d cast, particularly the girls, as lines were often thrown away. Although certain members of the chorus could be heard loud and clear in ensemble numbers such as ‘The Rhythm of Life’, unfortunately the balance was so off that the rest of the harmonies were lost. I could rarely hear Charity’s (Sadie Fitch-Kempner) dialogue, especially when underscored, meaning that massive sections just went unheard. The most frustrating moments, however, came when both the lyrics and melody were lost in songs—both vital ingredients for a successful musical.

Despite these issues of inaudibility, many of the cast should be congratulated for giving engaging performances. The majority of the principle cast were really what brought life to the show, and in many cases saved what would have been a slightly slow scene. Fitch-Kempner was a fabulous Charity—witty, charming and clumsy in all the right places, not to mention wickedly funny. I must say, however, that she did stick out on stage, as her energy and engagement were considerably higher than the surrounding ensemble. Although not necessarily a fault of the performers, this could have been fixed with some more direction in order to balance the energy. A similar imbalance appeared in the early scenes between Helene (Millie Blair), Nickie (Celia Brown), and Charity. Helene and Nickie’s true characters didn’t seem to appear until Act Two, and in Act One the relationship was portrayed as more of a duo with no real space for Charity. Thus the imbalance was not in performance but in characterisation. Despite this, Blair and Brown must be commended for their performances in ‘Baby, Dream Your Dream’. It was touching, engaging and my personal highlight of the show.

Barney Mercer’s entrance as Oscar came as something of a relief as it presented a chance for some of the weight to be lifted off Fitch-Kempner’s shoulders. Mercer executed his character well, maintaining clear dialogue despite its garbled nature, and was an extremely watchable performer. Mercer and Fitch-Kempner were charming on stage together, and if we put aside the occasional accept slip from Mercer, they were an entirely convincing pair. Their performances really lifted the show, making for an excellent second act. Once again, however, there seemed to be moments of unclear direction and characterisation, particularly in the final scene. Oscar’s character seemed to be flying all over the place and no emotional vein was established for him, meaning his departure was confusing more than it was upsetting. A quick mention must also be given to Polly Beaumont as Ursula, who was utterly hilarious and filled the stage and auditorium with energy whenever she entered.

I must also of course mention the choreography. The tone of ‘Big Spender’ and ‘The Rhythm of Life’ were effectively conveyed through the choreography, but the stand-out number was ‘Rich Man’s Frug’. Although a brilliant spectacle, unfortunately the choreography was almost identical to that of the film. It must also be said that some of the dance breaks seemed rather slow and lacking in energy—this could be helped by increasing the volume of the band during such breaks. Although I have been critical of what might be some missing direction, Nicki Orrell must be congratulated for what was an effectively stylised show. The motifs at the start of multiple scenes were very dynamic, and although these occasionally faded as the scene progressed, they were nonetheless effective. 

Sweet Charity certainly has some stand-out performances, and overall it is a really solid college musical—a stereotype that TCMS are certainly beginning to challenge.

16 February 2017

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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