“Ushers” – Little Theatre Company, Dixon Studio, Southend. 7/3/17
Photos: Little Theatre Company
This was a selection of firsts for me tonight – the first time I’ve been in the Dixon Studio at the Palace Theatre in Southend, the first time I’ve seen a Little Theatre Company production and the first time I’ve seen a performance of the Front of House Musical ‘Ushers’. Fortunately, these firsts all proved to be a real hat-trick.
The Dixon studio has an intimacy that lends itself beautifully to the show for anyone remotely ‘stagey’ or who just loves theatre, there is a very guilty pleasure in a parody of musical theatre, which Ushers certainly is. Just look at the success of Forbidden Broadway.
‘Ushers’ features the front of house staff in a London theatre. Their lives, their dreams and their aspirations. As a 6-hander musical, this leaves all the cast members quite open and vulnerable especially when the front row is less than 2 feet away from them however the cast attacks the show with great energy and really brought out the humour evident in the clever script writing and in particular, the references to modern theatre, politics etcetera – all of which are handled brilliantly.
With only 6 characters in the show, each part is vital to the overall production. Laura Harper as Rosie was a great characterisation and she very cleverly handled the funny/crazy side of Rosie versus the celebrity stalker – ‘Stagey Ninja!’ giving a great all round performance.
Ian Benson also delivered a very believable (if somewhat creepy) character as Robin – the perverted and sales obsessed Manager who loves to belittle and put down his staff. Tobias Smith as Stephen seemed little shaky at the beginning but soon got into his stride as the actor who dreams of getting a job based on his talent not his boyish good looks and his solo number ‘The Parts I could Play’ was delivered well.
Both Jamie Redgate as Ben and Julian Cottee as Gary also gave quite emotional performances as the gay couple struggling with potential separation as one gets a dream acting job leaving the other to stay as an Usher. It was their duet in Act 2 that I particularly liked for its pathos and melody, this was the pinnacle of their performance for me. Lastly but by no means least – Eleanor Softly as Lucy had an underlying strength to her performance and was a strong link throughout the whole show both vocally and with her excellent stage presence.
The only music I knew from the show was the opening ‘Welcome’ but despite many of the songs not having a ‘hum along’ melody it is the lyrics that make them so engaging and fortunately the diction was so good that I heard them all. I also noted that the acapella moments in the show with just the 6-strong cast had great tone and sounded superb – All credit to the MD Clare Penfold.
However, it is the laughs that flow through this show like running water that make it so much fun. If you know anything about theatre and or musicals then you will definitely enjoy this production.
My only negative comment was there was a lot of movement along the left-hand side of the theatre with I presume backstage members and cast rippling and moving the black tabs/cloths as they walked past them which kept catching my eye and distracting me from the performance, particularly in some of the quieter on stage moments, which was a real shame as I didn’t want to miss any of it!
Get your tickets while you can – as this show IS the stagiest one around and is guaranteed to delight ‘luuvies’ and general theatre lovers alike!