first night

The Producers

Sophie Zeldin-O'Neill leaves with a spring in her goose-step after DULOG's Gala show.


Three days into term and the word ‘dissertation’ has been uttered in my presence more times than ‘hello’. Gone is the comforting knowledge that the only deadline I have to meet is readying the mince pies for Santa, and heralded is the era when endless meetings and essays mean that going ‘au naturale’ steps up to a whole new level of make-up-less horror. Knowing that this would be the case, I called into Boots on the way to the Gala and invested in one of their at-home manicure kits. At least my hands would look good as they hammered away at the keyboard the next day.

Following the success of last year’s West Side Story, the DULOG team had some rather large shoes to fill with this year’s Gala show, but my initial, minor trepidations as to the choice of musical were obliterated within the first half hour. A worry with any student production of this kind is that you simply won’t be able to meet the cast requirements of a show that needs each participant to be competent in singing, dancing and acting. But if this production proved anything beyond doubt, it is that in Durham, we are thoroughly spoilt when it comes to theatrical talent. It takes a lot of bravado to put on a show like The Producers and pull it off, but I’ve seen many a professional production that would be outshone by this little number.

The choreography was first class and Maddy Mutch is to be highly commended on heading a team whose hips, flips and Stormtrooper high kicks actually left me feeling a little faint by the end. The sensational dancing was complemented, too, by outstanding costumes and make-up. I was thrilled to see that my lack of blusher had been accounted for ten-fold by many male cast members, most notably Ben Gittens and Sam Kingston-Jones, who made mincemeat of several showstoppers in the roles of fabulous theatre queens Roger DeBris and Carmen Ghia.

However, a dancer is nothing without music, and the orchestra were extremely fortunate to have seasoned musical directors Andrew Macfarlane and Seth Miall at the helm. The score for this show is an eclectic concoction of jazz, romance and ‘military pomp’ – a delightful challenge for any MD, and one that was decidedly met. I suspect that with a soundtrack like that, being in the pit was just as fun as being on stage.

And then there was the set. Oh my, the set. If chipboard could talk, this batch would sigh ‘darling’ with every lift of the curtain, and it seems fitting that the people responsible for its creation should have their position etched into the programme. Combined with superlative lighting and sound, I was astonished at the attention to detail, and at the risk of sounding gushing I’d like to add that as ‘Springtime for Hitler’ reached its climax, I audibly uttered ‘wow’.

Onto the actors, James Hyde played the mousy Leo Bloom with so perfect a balance of nervous energy and accountancy-induced OCD that I thought he might eat his own handkerchief, but I was unsure in the first few scenes whether Guy Hughes’ Max Bialystock did Bloom justice as the overbearing antidote to his nervous wreck. There’s something eternally hilarious about the ‘little and large’ duo, but Hughes’ svelte frame and lack of aggression didn’t quite correspond to the caricature, meaning that the pair couldn’t bring much of their on-stage chemistry to fruition. Nevertheless, his performance of ‘Betrayed’ left no doubts as to his outstanding talent as a commanding, and charismatic, musical actor.

Portraying a pigeon-loving ex-Nazi has got to be challenging for any actor, but I’m delighted to report that Doug Gibbs did a sterling job. At the risk of nitpicking, I did however wonder why he was wearing cotton dungarees instead of lederhosen…If the guy is willing to belt out ‘Der Guten Tag Hop Clop’ in front of his friends and loved ones then for goodness sake give him some decent pants.

At points, Kate Hunter’s Swedish siren Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonson Tallen-Hallen Svaden-Svanson (‘Ulla’ for short) and her flair with a feather duster had me questioning my sexuality.  Ok so the musical retains some residual 1960s misogyny via this charming pair of breasts and its owner, but as she so rightly underscores, ‘When you got it, flaunt it’!

All in all, it turned out that my glamorous evening of theatrical entertainment proved to be just the pick-me-up I needed. Let’s hope there’s more to come this term. They really should sell musicals instead of manicures.

19 January 2011

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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