Last night I did something which I never thought I would. I went to see a musical. Having grown up with five sisters you can imagine my aversion to entering heavily dominated female environments. I guess what I was fearing was some kind of sing-a-long Hen night. How very reassuringly wrong I was.
Make Do and Mend is set in Nottingham during WWII and tells the story of the Simpson sisters; two young ladies for whom the war offers heartbreak and excitement. Learning to take life as it comes and celebratory of the momentary distractions which such uncertain times bring, they find themselves frequenting Nottingham’s Palais De Danse or the ‘palee’ as it is locally known.
The two main sisters are like opposing book ends. Freddie is a vivacious extrovert in both appearance and attitude who revels in the attention her social life brings. Flo on the other hand is more earnest, a young scholar who prefers manuscripts over men. Forced to leave the house to allow their parents some ‘time together’ the two sisters hit the town and encounter men who will dramatically alter their lives forever.
There were a couple of aspects of this production that I particularly liked. Firstly, most of the cast were selected locally and so that lovely flat Nottingham accent echoes throughout the theatre, giving it a really homespun feel. It is so refreshing to see an ethically driven production rather than one which would cast Howard out of the Halifax advert just because they were a ‘celebrity’. Secondly, Steve Wallis, a playwright from Wollaton, has literally risked everything to finance this production. This unswerving conviction in your own ability is exactly the kind of artistic entreprenuirship which Nottingham needs and it is good to see someone putting their money where their mouth is.
And what a sweet mouth. Due to some excellent characterisation among the twenty four strong cast we are given a wide range of likable personality types which will appeal to all stratifications of the audience. For the elderly and obviously nostalgic viewers there is the highly principled father and his sense of order matched perfectly by the pragmatic mother. For young men there is Lily played by Emma Donnelly a seductress who will have you salivating for months after. But my personal favourite had to be Es, a bookish trainee nurse who falls for an equally geeky Des. Her complete contrast with the over glossed flappers was the exact kind of balance a well scripted musical requires. Her singing voice is befitting of her personality and the deliberate shrieking towards the end of each song had me in stitches, perfectly complimenting the more serious power ballads of a supremely talented cast.
If I was to find fault I would say the identical brothers ending was in danger of being a little bit twee. There are so many stories to draw from the myth kitty of wartime Britain I am sure that death and birth could be addressed in other ways. These issues do not need to be complicated, war does not need sexing up. For most of the audience sat around me, and some I should point out in tears, loss is enough in itself. The strength of this play and the reason it has struck such a chord is it gives those who have lost someone the opportunity to remember. Anything unnecessarily complicated which distracts from this will hinder this simple pleasure.
I hope that Steve takes these comments on board in earnest because I think he has a gem on his hands. And let’s not forget that young eighteen year old Joshua Goodman composed the music. That’s right, eighteen! This I found quite remarkable, particularly given that most producers would have banked on the nostalgia card and given out renditions of Vera Lynn. And let’s not forget that Radio Nottingham’s John Holmes, a lovely man who is like your most comfortable falling apart sofa, makes a guest appearance as barman. These are reasons to visit on their own. So throw your TV Guide onto the fire, disconnect the internet, crush your iPod and get down the Theatre Royal for a good old fashioned sing-a-long while you can. And that includes the men.
Book and Lyrics by Steve Wallis.
Score by Joshua Goodman Currently undertaking his A levels.
Fourteen Original songs mixture ballads/up-tempo but period.
Directed by Martin Berry
Musical Director Andrew Nicklin
Choregraphy by Nick Goh
LOCAL LISTINGS INFORMATION:
MAKE DO AND MEND Theatre Royal Nottingham
Tuesday 10th- Saturday 14th July 2007
Performance Times: Eves 7.30pm, Weds and Sat matinee 2.30pm
Ticket Prices: £8- £16.50 with concessions available
Box Office: 0115 989 5555