Whatever one may say in detail later, this must not be said of the 14-20 Music and Drama Society’s presentation of “Chu Chin Chow” at the Pavilion last week-
Taken from the Exmouth Journal, Saturday April 21st 1973. By Jim Stagg
· It establishes the Society as one of the most successful ventures ever attempted in Exmouth
· It Produced an outstanding young actress in Ruth Cundall
· The musical highlight of the production was in the singing of the cobbler’s song by Stephen England
· Costume-wise no production, one ventures to say, has in recent years excelled the magnificence and imagination of the creations of Betty McAskie
Musically- except for one or two individual small blemishes- it was a delight to the ear and speaks volumes for the hard work of Musical Director Pamela Jones.
And the choreographic movement, taking into account the
inexperience of some of the younger performers, was first class- for this
choreographer, Iris Moore, deserves an accolade
These two were the co-producers, and overall the production was very good, but to my mind a hard lesson was learned; because of the necessary concentration on the music and dances and chorus movement, it was apparent that not enough attention could be paid to the individual direction of the enthusiastic young actors and actresses.
The result was that with few notable exceptions the acting was wooden and inhibited. And sometimes voice production in speech, expression in voice and on face, fell by the wayside.
The exciting exception was Ruth Cundall, who as the fiery desert girl Zahrat was superb
She is blessed with a most attractive speaking voice, and appears to be a natural actress. She exhibited a mobility of expression and movement, and an understanding of what she was supposed to be doing with a maturity far beyond her 16 years.
Young Miss Cundall must be the dramatic find of the past four or five years so far as Exmouth and district is concerned. Her performance is all the more noteworthy in that she took over the part only five weeks before the show went on the road.
The story is broadly that “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, and the producers are to be congratulated in capturing the colour and melody for which “Chu Chin Chow” is famous.
One has to admit to being slightly disappointed over the singing of “I am Chu Chin Chow from China”, and one or two of the other solos failed to satisfy, but the chorus work was of a high quality, especially the lusty and tuneful singing of the Forty Thieves, as black a collection of ruffians as was ever assembled under the stage lights of the Pavilion. They ranged in height from at least 4ft. 6in. to a tenuous 5ft. 10in.; they brandished scimitars with a nasty lethal threat- and indeed exercised them to good purpose on one occasion- and they hit the notes of their robbers’ song clear, clean and true.
But the song that redeemed all the other solo shortcomings was that of the cobbler, sung really magnificently by Stephen England, who made the very, very best of his immature baritone, enunciating the words clearly, singing the well-loved song with the feeling, the expression and the tunefulness it calls for and deserves.
What was refreshing about his performance was that he was not afraid to take big, deep breaths, and open his mouth and let the sound come strongly from his belly. And basically if other young soloists had a failing it was this. There are few who cannot sing if these rules are not followed. The voice of a Chaliapin or a Gigli, or a Kathleen Ferrier or Margarhita Carrioso or even Maria callas may not be achieved, but the sound will be there, the note will truly be taken and the tune will take life.
Another success- to add to those she has already achieved- came to Annette Cole as Alcolom; she danced well, sang prettily and acted nicely, and was as usual, altogether charming.
As Marjanah, Janet Smaldon was good. She has a pretty voice, but on occasions, lack of the deep breath caused her some little difficulty. Michael Killoran as the wine tipple Ali Baba was good, but not as good as he has been in other parts. And this is where some individual direction would have paid dividends
For young Mr.Killoran has a talent, and with direction, he would have brought the house down. Andrew Killoran played Ali’s son, Nur al Hada, and again his natural ability should have been exploited by direction. His performance, sincere and enthusiastic, suffered from an immobility, which direction would have made more fluid. The same may be said for Robert Mills, as the villain of the piece, Abu Hasan, doubling up as Chu Chin Chow. A short appearance by Heidi Cole as Mabubah, the shrewish wife of Ali Baba, was enough to show that she has ability and a stage sense that could be developed.
Other parts were very well played by Burlin Power, Colin dance, Paul Trevelyan, Elizabeth Kinch, Ruth Andrews, Michael Gentle and Kevin Dance
The whole presentation was a big success; the Society’s producers captured the colour and the music, Miss Cundall captured the drama, and those wonderful costumes of Betty McAskie could not have been surpassed.
Everything was so whole-heartedly and enthusiastically attempted, that criticism seems ungracious and carping. But pretty words of congratulation ignoring imperfection are false flattery, and fool no-one.
Technically, the lighting and scenery wee first class, and the scene changes were smoothly and swiftly made. David Whitehead’s lighting showed imagination and gave a glow to the stage which enhanced the costumes and was kind to the excellent make-up which is a harsher lighting would not have achieved.
What one hopes the society will attempt in the future- and not too distant at that- is something like “Oliver!” It is after all, a society of youth, and can it not look forward to a more modern musical idiom? What marvellous chorus work there is in “Oliver!”- and what a marvellous chorus for the society to tackle this! And I can just see Ruth Cundall as Nancy and Stephen England would make a wonderful Fagin. Out of that fine Robber Band there would seem to be no difficulty in finding an Oliver- and an Artful Dodger to go with him