by Lynn on June 6, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber
Book revised by Stephen Fry (with contributions by Mike Ockrent)
Music by Noel Gay
Directed by Ashlie Corcoran
Music direction by Paul Sportelli
Choreography by Parker Esse
Set by Drew Facey
Costumes by Sue LePage
Lighting by Kevin Lamotte
Sound by John Lott
Cast: Neil Barclay
Donna Belleville
Kyle Blair
Julie Course
Sharry Flett
Kristy Frank
Élodie Gillett
Ric Reid
Michael Therriault
Jay Turvey
Jenny L. Wright

A rousing rags to riches story that seems to follow a formula, done well with a scene that in 2017 will make you squirm.

The Story. Bill Snibson is a working class, Cockney-speaking bloke from Lambeth, with simple tastes. He loves Sally Smith, also a working class woman, and she loves ‘im, er, sorry, him. Then his life is turned upside down. He is told that he has inherited an earldom and all the money, land and baubles that come with it. He is told by the folks of the upper class, of which Bill is now a member, he must forget his former simple life, and definitely his girlfriend Sally. He balks. The upper class twits push back. Who will win? Will Bill be true to his principles? Will he succumb to money and canapés? Will Sally hold on? Soul-searching questions that are pondered whilst tap-dancing.

The Production. Drew Facey has fashioned a double winding staircase structure that is evocative enough of the upper class digs of the Duchess of Dene in the wilds of Hampshire. A few set pieces here and there and some large family portraits of overdressed aristocracy up there on the wall and the audience conjures up the rest. Sue LePage’s wonderful costumes establish the ritzy upper class and the working class. Bill is in functional clothes with a bit of flash: jersey, vest, kerchief tied around his neck, workman’s trousers. Sally’s dress is black and flashy and a bit garish. Perfect for her.

Director Ashlie Corcoran and choreographer Parker Esse have a clear eye for the dazzle and sparkle of the piece. Those in the upper class move slowly and with a contained imperiousness. Those in the working class—Bill Snibson and Sally Smith for example—move at a clip. Bill always seems to be rushing. Makes perfect sense, he has to scramble to make a living and would move quickly.

The dances are rousing and joyous, as if the aristocratic folks need an excuse to break loose and dance. The Lambeth Walk is particularly lively, certainly since it’s lead by Bill Snibson.

Bill is played by the masterful Michael Therriault. Is there anything he can’t do? He sings, dances and acts with aplomb. As Bill he has a commonsensical, feet-firmly-on-the -ground attitude. He knows where he is comfortable and belongs, and this snooty upper class isn’t it. By the same token, he’s not allowed to go back to where he’s comfortable. This is a clear dilemma for Bill and Therriault pulls that off with ease. He is a gifted comedian who pulls off the humour, some groaning jokes others witty entendres, in Stephen Fry’s 1980 revision of the play. Act I certainly has the Fry wit but it’s Act II where the puns and entendres seem more plentiful. In a certain sense Fry’s humour is more sophisticated than this charmingly silly show can really support—the show is not diminished by that humour; it’s just an observation.

As Sally Smith, Kristi Frank has a good idea where she belongs and where she is most confident and that is in London, in Lambeth with her mates. She does not give a toss for the snooty Hampshire countryside. Give her teaming London every time. It’s a lovely performance of a feisty, commanding character, who sings beautifully.

While the majority of the characters in that ‘smart set’ are upper class twits, there is Sharry Flett as a dignified, gracious Duchess of Dene. She keeps everything going in that set. She knows how that social strata works and what is needed. She is eager to help Bill fit in.

Comment. Me and My Girl (set in the 1930s) is that formula kind of British musical in which a poor man or woman comes into a lot of money or title and their social strata changes. I’m also reminded of Half a Sixpence that played in London in 1963, but was set in London in early 1900. In that show a poor young man inherits a lot of money from his long lost grandfather and it changes his life. He falls in love with an upper class woman but also loves a woman of his own station. Who does he commit to?

These characters, in these two musicals and others of this ilk must decide if they will move ‘up’ or stay where they are. And there is usually a rousing number to loosen up those stiff souls in the upper classes. In Me and My Girl it’s “The Lambeth Walk”, in Half a Sixpence it’s a number in which everybody plays the banjo. Hilarious.

There is a cringe worthy scene in Me and My Girl…the Honourable Gerald Bolingbroke (Kyle Blair) spends all his time pursuing Lady Jacqueline Carstone (Julie Course) who treats him like a twit. She pursues Bill Snibson since he now has money. Bill ignores her. Gerald laments. But then Gerald is told to show Jacqueline who is the boss and give her a smack on her rear end. Let us all collectively knit out eyebrows in 2017. From off-stage we hear Gerald smack Jacqueline’s behind. She screams. Then there is another smack and she’s whacked him back. Gerald is startled. Then both smack each other and are suddenly smitten. Exhale. No matter what era this smacking is despicable. How to solve this in 2017 is certainly a dilemma. I guess director Ashlie Corcoran thought it should just stand as behaviour that would be acceptable in the 1930s. Hmmmm.

Presented by the Shaw Festival

Opened: May 27, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 15, 2017.
Cast: 23; 11 men, 12 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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