The Invitation Theatre Company at The Bear, Devizes
It’s the early 1950s, and time for the very last pint to be pulled at The Conductor’s Arms. Business ain’t what it used to be, and even the Music Hall next door is closing down. As Albert the landlord (Ian Diddams) sits supping at the bar, he looks back over the history of his family; his grandparents’ escape from the Irish potato famine and their acquisition of the pub, meeting his wife, the birth of his children, the death of his son in the first World War, and victory in World War Two. So many memories. So many faces, come and gone. So many tunes…
Oh, The Invitation Theatre Company had a good time with this one! For one night only, sorry, three, the ballroom at The Bear became an informal and intimate old time music hall forward slash East End pub, with dancing girls, banging tunes, Pearly Kings, poignant tear jerkers, and cheese. Lots of cheese. A succulent smorgasbord of cheerful cheese, and the kind of sad songs that would have the stoutest customer weeping into their gin before closing time.
Devised and directed by Ally Moore and Liz Schorah, and ably compèred with alliterative acuity by Peter Nelson, ‘Last Night at The Conductor’s Arms’ was simply a good excuse to sing (‘Sing along!’ they said, so we did) all your gran’s favourites from ‘Danny Boy’ to ‘No Business Like Show Business’.
The problem with writing reviews for TITCO is that everyone is good, they get better each time they work together, the music is always spot on, and no one likes a sycophant. But really, other than the fact that perhaps the performance space was a little small for the lively choreography, it’s hard to pick fault with this show.
So I’ll go with highlights, which, for me, were as follows; Ian Diddams’ acting. Mel Coombs, Liz Schorah, and Viv Kyte‘s chirpy versions of ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and ‘Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree’. All of the men singing ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart.’ Paul Morgan singing ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ (the ladies I met in the churchyard today particularly liked that one). Mari Webster singing anything. And all of the ensemble pieces.
Moments of brilliance? The whole cast singing the heart-wrenching ‘Keep The Homes Fires Burning’, with its rich and complex harmonies (I cried, and I wasn’t the only one). Lottie Diddams producing a couple of notes of unearthly beauty in ‘Secret Love’. Ian Diddams again, with his heartfelt delivery of ‘Brown Boots’. And, for which she received the most rousing cheer of the evening, Jemma Brown, hilariously channelling Hyacinth Bucket, in a performance of the musically challenging ‘I Want To Sing In Opera’ that had some of us questioning our continence.
‘Last Night at The Conductor’s Arms’ was an uplifting, moving, and endearing show; no pretence at great art, just a wild ride through the music halls of memory on a pantomime pony, with the odd pitstop for a tear.
And the final verdict from behind the aspidistra?
Hit me with a feather boa, that was fun.
Nine out of ten.
© Gail Foster 19th November 2017