TITCO does Queen

A review of The Invitation Theatre Company and Full Tone Orchestra’s Queen show in the Corn Exchange, Devizes

‘It’ll be alright on the night’ is a phrase often said following a dress rehearsal of dubious quality.  As I watched TITCO perform their Queen medley prior to their sell out show I wondered if this would prove true on this occasion.  Seems like a big ask, I thought as I watched the cast fumbling through the numbers and trudging round the stage with what seemed to be very little direction or enthusiasm.  It’s rock, I thought, for goodness sake give it some welly!  ‘Another one bites the dust’ it said on the back of someone’s tee-shirt.  Indeed.  It was so bad that I didn’t feel I could review it, so I decided to go back on the first night to see if it was any better. TITCO have produced some great shows in the past few years, and the Full Tone Orchestra are a class act.  Both have reputations to keep up and fans to please, and both take pride in their work.  A fail at this stage would not be good for either. What if, heavens forbid, TITCO didn’t pull it off…?

From the moment I walked into the Ceres Hall on Friday it was abundantly clear that TITCO had been on the glitter, and that all would be well.  Energy levels on the stage and in Antony Brown’s orchestra were through the roof, and the audience were buzzing with excitement.

The format of Chris Worthy and Jemma Brown’s production was simple.  A programme of iconic songs alternated with less well known tunes and short audio clips of interviews with Queen members, the entire cast dressed in black Queen tee-shirts in front of a plain black backdrop, a thirty piece orchestra and four guitarists to do justice to the music, solos and duets from Sean Andrews, Will Sexton, Chris Worthy, Simon Hoy, Paul Morgan, Lottie Diddams, Jemma Brown, Naomi Ibbetson, Mari Webster and Lucy Burgess, rousing altogether-now ensemble numbers by the whole company, and more glow sticks than you could shake a glow stick at.

The usual suspects gave good song, as is to be expected given their wealth of experience, but Will Sexton’s Mercurial ‘I Want To Be Free’, Jemma Brown and Mari Webster’s mellow and melancholy ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’, and Chris Worthy’s delightfully raunchy interpretation of ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ were the performances that did it for me on this occasion.  And everyone loves ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and ‘We Will Rock You’, and (it was acceptable in the 70s, really it was) ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’…

The show wasn’t perfect, but on the Friday night the cast brought just the right amount of attitude and anarchy to the show to make any little slips irrelevant and unnoticeable, and their obvious enjoyment in delivering the songs and interacting with the audience was infectious.  The choreography was a bit dodgy, but there had been no opportunity to rehearse in the performance space prior to the dress rehearsal, so I might let them off that one.  And anyway, nobody cared…

Because on the night the Full Tone Orchestra upped the pace and TITCO upped their game, and between them they totally smashed it.

I’ve not seen an audience react quite that strongly to a musical show.  They sang, they waved their arms, they clapped their hands (‘Buddy you’re a boy, make a big noise’ etc), they stood up and whooped in appreciation.  Maybe it was something in the beer.  Maybe they were blinded by the glitter.  Maybe the dream combination of TITCO, Queen, and the Full Tone Orchestra tipped them over the edge.  I know that people love TITCO, but I didn’t realise anyone still loved Queen quite so much.  Maybe there is a little bit of Freddie or a Killer Queen inside us all.

By the end of the show the entire audience was up on its feet, singing and swaying and waving their glow sticks wildly to ‘We Are The Champions’, and demanding an encore.

Brilliant.

So what happened between the frankly dire dress rehearsal and the show, I wonder?

Someone really needs to check that glitter.

© Gail Foster 1st July 2018

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Devizes Town Band; Heroes and Villains

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What do we expect from a Town Band?  Seasonal Oompahs, buckets of enthusiasm, Jerusalem, and the odd dropped note, perhaps?  Not a full on professional sounding wind orchestra, surely.  After all, town bands are an amateur thing, aren’t they?

I went to see Devizes Town Band’s ‘Heroes and Villains’ show at the Corn Exchange on Monday.  Their current Musical Director is Sharon Lindo, a professional violinist and multi-instrumentalist, who came out of the trombone section to take up the baton in 2012.  The night was compered by Ian Pugh, chirpy toastmaster and Fantasy Radio personality, and on this occasion there were forty-four musicians, amateur and professional, wind and percussion, in the band.  Proceeds from the event went to local charity Altzheimer’s Support.

The programme consisted of classic film themes, all introduced with a paragraph about plot, and illustrated with images on a big screen behind the band.  The night started with Superman, then we had The Godfather, Chicago, Les Mis, Gladiator, Bonnie and Clyde, The Magnificent Seven, Schindler’s List, and a bit of Aida.  In the interval we heard about Altzheimer’s Support from Laura Fenson, Community Fundraiser, and in the second half we had The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Mack the Knife, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, Over The Rainbow, Chicken Run, Skyfall, and Oliver.

What is it about these songs that stirs us so?  The triumphant and melancholic cadences, the nostalgia?  We’ve heard them so often they could be deemed to be corny, but the reason they have endured is because people love them, and most have memories associated with them.  Fun, sorrow, victory, mischief, romance, nights at the movies, Sundays by the television, days gone by… whatever it is that appeals, it brought people out in droves, and on a school night, and not all of them over fifty.

Solo performers were Alan Evans on French horn, playing the poignant ‘Bring Him Home’, Jenni Scott, flautist and vocalist, singing ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ to the tune of gunfire, Sharon Lindo’s sensitive rendition of the Schindler theme on violin, Bruce MacDonald on tenor sax playing ‘Over The Rainbow’ and, my favourite moment of the night (sniff, something in my eye, etc.) Richard Tannasee on trumpet, playing ‘Il Triello’, oh so beautifully, in front of screen images from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

Dropped notes?  Maybe a barely perceptible hiccup somewhere in the first half, but that really is nit-picking.  The band had been rehearsing since January, and it showed. The quality of sound was great, the energy levels were high, the conductor was a joy to watch, the kazoos were on point (!), and the tunes were well chosen.  With the exception of one elderly lady, who said that rock bands were more her cup of tea, everyone I spoke to loved it.  ‘Very good’, seemed to be the consensus.  ‘Very enjoyable’ said the man who had come all the way from Bedfordshire to see his daughter play the clarinet.

I must be getting old.  I liked it a lot.

And I got to play with Ian Pugh’s gavel afterwards.

Good times.

© Gail Foster 24th April 2018

PS What is it about Ennio Morricone?

You can catch the really rather wonderful Devizes Town Band at Poulshot Church in June, at the Beer Festival in July, and at Hillworth Park in September.  And if you’re interested in finding out more about the work of Altzheimer’s Support (let’s face it, we all might need them one day), you can contact their Devizes office in Sidmouth Street.

 

 

‘Last Night at The Conductor’s Arms’

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 cheese.

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