The Maddermarket Theatre, former chapel and the spiritual home of am-dram in Norwich, is firing on all cylinders again after a tough couple of years because of you know what. The latest production to rock the stage was Disney’s The Little Mermaid courtesy of the Echo Youth Theatre. Despite the best of intentions, amateur gigs can sometimes sink without trace. A stiff gin has got us through many a stinker. Did The Little Mermaid flounder on the rocks?
Definitely not. The young cast put on a cracking show full of joy, energy and enthusiasm, and the clever use of Heelys – trainers with wheels which enabled the seafood to glide effortlessly across the stage – was inspired. Wardrobe and makeup merit a special mention. The fishy weaves were just fabulous.
There was some real talent and great vocals on that stage – not least from our very own rising starlet, Alice Peck, the daughter of our local tavern keeper. We loved her performance. Keep it up, Alice. You have a bright future treading the boards.
In 1961 a portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya was lifted from the National Gallery in London. Only 19 days earlier it had been ‘bought for the nation’ for £140,000, a huge sum to shell out back in the day. But it wasn’t an ill-gotten gain to be fenced to a dodgy dealer. No, it was a modern take on robbing the rich to feed the poor, or rather to pay for their TV licenses. The thief sent a series of ransom notes to the authorities guaranteeing to return the Duke unharmed if elderly people were exempted. It’s a campaign that still rumbles on to this day. But who was the anti-hero behind the audacious heist? None other than Kempton Bunton, a middle-aged cabbie from Newcastle with a messianic sense of social justice.
And now there’s the COVID-delayed film, Duke, based on this extraordinary story and starring Jim Broadbent as Kempton and Helen Mirren as his long-suffering wife, Dorothy. Both deliver top-notch performances in a very British, very funny and heart-warming Robin Hood tale for the modern age. But does Kempton meet his Waterloo? The answer will surprise.
As an interesting footnote, the painting appears in Dr No, the first James Bond film, where it’s on display in the villain’s lair giving the impression it was stolen to order.
Since they switched the theatre lights back on, we’ve been playing catch-up with all the shows queuing up impatiently in the wings. Our latest gig was the UK tour of The Book of Mormon. Deliciously camp, rude, lewd and super crude, the song and dance show pulls no punches when ridiculing the fairy tales at the core of the Mormon credo – and by extension, organised religion in general. So there was a third biblical testament buried on a hillside in upstate New York? Who knew? Not the villagers in far-flung Uganda who had more pressing, real-world problems to deal with, like trigger-happy warlords, grinding poverty, AIDS and female genital mutilation. Ripe for conversion? The all-American dancing boys from Salt Lake City thought so. The desperate often are.
All’s well that ends well as the Bard once wrote and the show does have a happy ending because, in the end, we all need something to believe in, even if it’s just the power of the human spirit. By curtain call we were all on our feet. Yes, it’s that good.
As we left the theatre, we spotted a solitary Mormon elder politely handing out leaflets for the cause. Seems The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sees the show as an opportunity for a recruitment drive. Who said there’s no such thing as bad publicity?
I first watched The Sound of Music in the sixties at the tender age of seven. To see over the heads of the people in front of me, I sat on an upturned seat. Not that I saw that much anyway. I nodded off halfway through and didn’t wake up ‘til Dame Julie and co were heading for the hills.
Even though the film eventually became a Christmas staple on TV, I never actually sat through it. All I knew was that it was a tale of good versus evil with singalong tunes. And then the BBC exposed the truth about the von Trapps in a 2013 warts-and-all documentary. It turned out our heroes didn’t climb any mountain or ford any stream to escape the clutches of the nasty Nazis. No, they caught the 5.30 express to Italy. It was a bitter blow.
To restore my faith in the fairy tale, I jumped at the chance to see a new production at Norwich’s Theatre Royal by the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society. They’re amateur thesps but they always put on a good show.
As we necked our interval gins, I asked Liam,
So, when does the cute blond sing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me?’
That’s from Cabaret.
Seems I was mixing up my Nazis.
Overall, the production was charming, with some really sweet moments. Nuns and Nazis, what’s not to like? For us, the stand-out performance was from Sara Cubitt as the Mother Abbess. ‘Climb Every Mountain’ is a tough song to sing, and we held our breath as she warbled towards that devilishly difficult final note. Did she hit it? Oh yes.
After a six-year hiatus, local comedy heroes The Nimmo Twins (Owen Evans and Karl Minns) were back treading the boards at the Norwich Playhouse for the second of their twenty-fifth-anniversary shows. Despite their glittering quarter-century career, to our shame, we’d never heard of them, but then a couple of fellow villagers put us firmly in the picture.
I’m glad they did. In skit and sketch, satire and song, characters old and new, the Twins put us straight about all things normal for Norfolk – the ups and mostly downs of Norwich City Football Club, local petty bureaucrats who couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, geriatric TV presenters well past their sell-by, livestock-lovin’ farmhands with single-digit IQs and flash Londoners with their fancy cars and holiday homes, all delivered in the broadest of Naarfuk and with tongues firmly in cheek. It’s a total, affectionate piss-take and it’s hysterical.