February: not my favourite month. No longer Winter, but not quite Spring, either. My birthday month: another year older, so need cheering up. Fortunately, on cue and in the nick of time, it’s The Cherington Players’ annual Music Hall! Eclectic – certainly; surreal – not infrequently; entertaining – always; an essential date for the diary – most definitely.
Times change, of course: where once a judge held court and a schoolmaster gamely followed, who’d have imagined that Kermit the Window Cleaner could so successfully wield the MC’s gavel? Other changes are more evolutionary, and therein lies the key to the continued success of this much-loved institution: individual performers may move on to pastures new, or opt for a year out, but there remains a sufficient core of stalwarts to provide continuity and maintain long-standing tradition. Seasoned ‘guests’ may wind down gracefully (or even a little disgracefully), whilst relative newcomers, not so long ago tentative and a little self-conscious, visibly blossom into the leads of the future. The roles of Director Diana Fremantle and Musical Director ‘Dame’ Helen Porter are pivotal, of course: with the Music Hall on her CV, Diana is surely a shoo-in for Michael Boyd’s job, a little further up the A3400, whilst Helen’s fascinator deserves its own billing in the programme.
Cherington is about as far from the sea as it is possible to be on our island, so this year’s first act, Songs from the Sea, struck the first slightly surreal note. The Company traversed the spectrum from traditional sea shanties to The Beach Boys with considerable aplomb and minimal props. A backdrop from South Pacific offered a potentially incongruous setting for The Skye Boat Song; fortunately, a sufficient number of performers had thought to pack a tartan travel rug for their trip to the seaside, and the end result included some nice harmonies. John Baldwin’s solo rendition of Sea Fever brought the first act to a close in great style.
With the first interval behind us, it was time for the traditional Solos & Duets, with Helen and Tim Porter (“Brailes’ answer to the Von Trapp Family”, to quote our MC, James Walton) setting the standard as usual. Bracketed by the singing voices of Sarah Bourne and Octavia Lewis, Mark Dudfield (whose absence from the first act had caused some consternation amongst afficionados) was on his usual form (!) with his stand-up routine. Mark Rosen’s poem, Chocolate Cake was delivered with panache by Andy Elliott, whilst Chris Bourne, displaying talents that always managed to elude James Herriot, gave a spirited performance of George Formby’s Wigan Boat Express. Colin Beckett’s tribute to Rolf Harris brought the second act to a hilarious conclusion, although I did find myself scouring the audience nervously before giving way to laughter at his ‘Birmingham’ joke!
This year’s final act was given over to Favourites from Gilbert & Sullivan: if ever there was a theme tailor-made for The Cherington Players, this was it! Less scope than usual for cross-dressing, despite the inclusion of A Regular Royal Queen from The Gondoliers, and no outing this year for Anthony Granville’s much-admired legs, but full advantage was otherwise taken of the comic potential of no fewer than four light operas. The successful partnership of Jane Gibbs and Jonathan Stolerman this year foresook their flying jackets for Sino-Japanese apparel: will they again make the cover of The LINK, one wonders? Geoffrey Gibbs, surely the ideal candidate for a piratical cameo in With Catlike Tread, settled for making a Tit (Willow) of himself. But it was the ensemble pieces that stole the show, with some fine singing and fun-poking: the final two numbers, I’ve Got a Little List and The Ruler of the Queen’s Navee were particularly well chosen and executed.
The usual hugely enjoyable and entertaining evening, then. But the question must be asked: will it be possible to emulate the Stourton Hippodrome’s unique atmosphere in the new Village Hall?
David Farman (Little Wolford)