Being asked to give your opinion on a brand new show, written by a rookie playwright and performed by the local am-dram group is something that may make your palms sweat as you worry about just how bad it might be. Luckily for everyone concerned, not least the paying audience, the night was a hit with several proper laugh-out-loud moments.
One Night In Grantham is Andy Antony’s first play, having joined Grantham Dramatic Society a couple of years ago. But the characters and story arc he has created show that he knows how to write an entertaining and engaging story. At its heart is a multifaceted tale of the struggle to achieve success: the staff of a run-down theatre hoping for better things and a group of performers hoping to win fame and fortune in the final of a talent competition. But things don’t go to plan and a few very unexpected events throw the backstage planning into chaos, but of course the show must still go on.
Another thing to note is that Andy is also a singer-songwriter and has added some original songs to the show. It doesn’t put this into musical theatre territory, as there are only five and are mainly performed as part of the talent competition, but it’s still a new venture for GDS. Luckily for them, the three main singers were able to perform the songs admirably. Having said that, the show opens with a song that doesn’t necessarily gel with the following scene and could probably be shelved, especially as the first acted scene is so well written and performed, laying good plot groundwork and giving excellent insight to the two characters, jaded theatre manager Oliver Walsh and his devoted assistant Gwen.
Oliver (Paul Connor) is not a happy man and his tirade of grumbling would grind anyone down, but not Gwen, played by Paul’s wife, Lisbeth Connor. This is apparently the first time they have ever performed on stage together but the chemistry, timing and delivery were a joy to watch. The ‘Shaggy’ line was one of the first full belly laughs that the audience experienced and there were more to come.
We were then introduced to Rita Razzle, a local-girl-made-good, played with vitality by Briony Sparrow. Her upbeat, somewhat unconventional approach makes her an excellent foil to Oliver’s grousing, even if her only claim to fame is a reality TV show.
The contestants comprise of three singers, a magician and a ventriloquist with quite probably the most (deliberately) hideous dummy ever to be presented on stage. Luke Wilson played friendly Cockney lad Jay with great energy and helped keep some of the scenes dynamic. Jay takes an interest in Liverpudlian singer Lisa, played by Siobhan Croft who not only nailed a decent Scouse accent but also portrayed a believable sense of anxiety and vulnerability. Lisa’s woes are mainly caused by her manager, Charlie, an aggressive shiny-suited wide-boy excellently delivered by Alan Bontoft who also got stuck into realistic Scouse with enthusiasm.
The final singer is Max Moffatt, an ageing rock and roller who hopes for one last talent show win. John Sheppard played the role with gusto and was clearly having a great time. To ensure Max stays grounded to reality his long-suffering and somewhat cynical wife (Rosemary Gibson) is there to support him and help out when he gets into difficulty.
Nick Croft has become something of a regular in GDS productions over the past few years and this time took on the role of Larry the Geordie ventriloquist who is a bit of an odd-ball: the other contestants are baffled by his arguments with his dummy, Wilbur (voiced by Sharon Hurrell and who sounded exactly like comedian Sarah Millican). The last contestant is Karl the magician, enigmatically played by Mark Brown. We see a lot more of him in the second half and his entrance is yet another twist in the plot.
Towards the end we are joined by Vicky Aves as DI Smirch and although she played the part well the clichéd ‘trench-coat and trilby’ costume was a rare mis-step.
The other performers on stage were the ‘Community group backing dancers’ played by Daniele Petruzzo, Joy Wilson, Nicki McKay and Sharon Hurrell. They absolutely contributed to the singers’ acts, strutting their stuff in deliberately toe-curling fashion. Daniele in particular was a star, so much so that most of the audience were clearly watching him rather than the singer. He nailed his moves with confidence and precision, giving lots of comic expression that delighted everyone watching.
The set was to Martin Brewin’s usual high standard and Mary O’Neill’s direction ensured that scenes were neither too static nor too rushed.
Andy Antony and the GDS cast have pulled off a strong show with an interesting plot, well-acted parts and a generally lively script that managed to land most of the jokes well. There was even a nod to the ongoing issues of Grantham hospital’s A&E department. The songs needed to be shorter and punchier (and definitely no prolonged instrumental interlude) but overall it was a good evening’s entertainment.