I was welcomed by Clare Ryan, Front of House Manager who mentioned that there had been a late substitute as sound technician.
This was a production of the traditional and well known story, at its best. It opened with a mock stained glass window to denote The Nonnberg Abbey and quickly led into an impressive backdrop of mountain scenery. From the beginning, the sound quality was somewhat variable and did not always kick in on cue. Nevertheless it did not detract from the overall performance of the large cast.
Constance Lawton excelled as Maria with an amazing singing voice and great stage presence.
Niels Bradley, as Captain Von Trapp, was a strong character and a perfect foil for Maria. Their duets were tender and emotional.
The seven children, aged from 16 to 5, were an absolute delight to watch as they danced and sang throughout. Well done Gabriela Spindler-Mosquera, Tyler Drury, Abbie Macintosh, Emily Tabor, Ben Nelson, Alice Tyler and Avalon Lawton. All were well rehearsed and confident and used the stage well as they performed. Of course, Avalon, as the youngest child, Gretl, stole the show with her confidence and singing voice but all seven worked really well together and sparkled on stage.
Janet Moore, as Mother Abbess, put on a great performance and performed and sang so well.
Helen Quigley played Elsa, the rich love interest of Captain Von Trapp, with good style and presence, alongside Richard Cooper, as Uncle Max. These two were well cast and acted out their parts with great skill.
Michelle Knight, as Frau Schmidt the housekeeper, played a great supporting role, taking her household duties very seriously and I really enjoyed her interpretation of the character. It did prove quite difficult to hear all her words at times and she would probably have benefited from the use of a microphone.
Mike Watson, as Franz the butler, was a great burly character, well immersed in the role. Haydn Watts, as the messenger boy Rolf, engaged the romantic interest of the eldest child, Liesl and there was a tender duet by them.
Other major roles were played by Robbie Robertson, (Admiral) and Roy Morkham (Herr Zeller) both making a good contribution.
The chorus of nuns was remarkable and their singing faultless. They were such a joy to observe and listen to.
The large band, ably directed by Jessie Tabor, was very accomplished and achieved just the correct volume whilst supporting the singers. Very mellow harmonies were evident, a tribute to Jessie’s hard work, not just with the band members but also the singers.
As well as some issues with the sound, I felt that the spot light was often too slow to follow an actor to the front of the stage so that part of their performance was in semi-darkness. Otherwise, lighting effects were good and contributed to the overall set.
I must mention the magnificent purple and gold settee and chair which were just perfect.
The stage management team of Emma Loring, Keith Radley and Graham Everard and the stage crew did a sterling job of ensuring that props and sets were moved on and off stage with minimum delay.
Costumes (Helen Hooper) and wigs were all well sourced and very relevant to the era.
This was a very polished production from a very talented group, both on and off stage and I congratulate everyone involved.
With such a well known storyline and magnificent and well loved songs, it can be difficult to engage the audience but this performance did this so well.
North Essex Theatre Guild Showcase 2019
Front of House
A very efficient and friendly team. The programme was well printed and informative, with cast photos and rehearsal pictures. The Arts Theatre venue has a café so there was a good selection of drinks and refreshments on offer.
A painted backcloth of mountains and a lake. Various items of grand furniture were used for rooms in the von Trapp home. The very ornate settee and chair, the opulent flower arrangements, all signified wealth. The office of the Mother Abbess was set on the floor in front of the stage.
The costumes were a mixed bag. The nuns obviously looked good and it was a nice touch to have some younger women, not in the full habit, but dressed as postulants. Elsa’s outfits really suited her character, tight red skirt and ruffled blouse, very flattering peach dress and a gorgeous deep blue evening gown. All of Maria’s outfits were based on the outfits from the film. The children wore a variety of outfits, the iconic sailor suits, the “curtain” clothes, party dresses and the peasant style clothes for the choral festival. However, some of them didn’t fit well. Gretl seemed swamped by her skirts and Liesl’s clothes seemed too short for her. When hiring costumes, it isn’t always possible to get an exact fit but perhaps subtle temporary alterations could have been made. The pink party dresses didn’t particularly suit any of the girls. The ball gowns were an interesting mixtures of styles and eras. The housekeeper’s wig was not realistic enough. Rolf’s suit seemed rather on the large side. Maria’s wedding dress, with its long train, looked beautiful. Overall, the production looked good.
Most of the time the stage was well lit, but the use of spotlights were sometimes not cued quickly enough. The scene where the nuns are singing “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” was not well lit. The convent bells sounded good and the thunderstorm was most impressive. However, because the bedroom was brightly lit, there was an odd contrast with the darkening sky, the rumbling thunder and the dramatic flashes of lightning. Perhaps if the bedroom had been lit more subtly, with spotlights on the bed, the night time storm would have had even more impact. It was only dark when there was thunder, then went back to full lighting again. The microphones worked well most of the time, but there were several instances when they were not switched on quickly enough so that dialogue was lost, and in one case, not switched off when someone left the stage.
A great band with a very good musical director, Jessie Tabor. The volume was just right and at no time were the singers overpowered – a good balance. I mean this as a compliment – during the songs, one is focused on the action and the singers and if the music is right, one almost takes it for granted. During scene changes, when the band continued playing – that is when everyone realised how good they were!
Maria. Constance Lawton
Constance was a sweet and expressive Maria, with a lovely, seemingly effortless singing voice. She had a good rapport with the children and her growing feelings for the Captain were conveyed subtly. Her anguished scenes with the Mother Abbess were very touching. Maria has to mature from an innocent, slightly boisterous young woman to a strong, supportive wife and stepmother. Constance let us see the growth in the character. Well done.
Captain von Trapp. Niels Bradley
Niels had a military air, as befitted an ex naval man. You could sense the repressed nature of the Captain, through excellent body language and manner of speaking. A strong characterisation and a good singing voice. He handled the emotional aspects of his role with realism, particularly when he first sang with his children. We saw another side to his character when faced with the order to join the German Navy. He was sharp and abrupt. It was a real, and most unusual pleasure, to see someone actually playing a guitar.
Liesl. Gabriela Spindler-Mosquera
A vulnerable and naïve performance from Gabriella, who tried hard to convey the young woman she feels herself to be. She had a sweet singing voice and played the role of the eldest child well, looking after her younger siblings.
Friedrich and Kurt. Tyler Drury and Ben Nelson
Surrounded by girls, the boys made their mark, each creating a good and different character. Friedrich – more confident and Kurt, gentler, less sure of himself. They sang enthusiastically.
Louisa, Brigitta, Marta, Gretl. Abbie Macintosh, Emily Tabor, Alice Tyler, Avalon Lawton
Great teamwork from the girls, all developing their individual characters. There was a sense that they were real sisters, at ease with one another. Emily had a lot of lines, delivered clearly and expressively – a charming performance, and of course, in the role of Gretl, five year old Avalon was small and cute, exactly what the role needs. Well done to all of the girls for their confident playing and their singing.
Sister Margaretta, Sister Bertha and Sister Sophia. Emma Loring, Sue Pavelin and Hattie Newlyn
A wonderful trio of nuns, each with a well-defined character. They were humorous, they were vehement in their opinions, and when singing, their harmonies were delightful.
Mother Abbess. Janet Moore
Janet gave an understated performance as Mother Abbess, giving a sense of calmness and caring. She had a gentle manner and yet, her authority was apparent. One of the outstanding highlights of the show was “Climb every Mountain.” Janet’s voice was outstanding, gloriously soaring, climbing vocal mountains as the song reached its crescendo. I really sensed the character’s serenity, her confidence in God, her belief shining through. Wonderful.
Frau Schmidt. Michelle Knight
As the housekeeper, Michelle had clear diction. Perhaps a little more expression would have given the character more light and shade.
Franz. Mike Watson
A strong interpretation as the butler. Imposing and impassive.
Elsa. Helen Quigley
A very attractive woman, aware of her worth, yet able to be believably seductive. Helen had all the facets of this interesting character, giving us a glimpse of the cold, hard business woman. She had natural elegance in her portrayal, and as always with the character of Elsa, I’m never sure whether she is likeable or not. Thank you, Helen, for still leaving me wondering!
Max. Richard Cooper
Max is a complex character – cynical and amiable, calculating and humorous. Richard seemed at ease with showing those traits, and he had a good rapport with Elsa. Max has a certain charm, that lets him get away with quite a lot and Richard made this very believable – lovable yet exasperating!
Rolf. Haydn Watts
I felt that Haydn played his role with more humour than I’ve seen before but this seemed to work with his scenes with Liesl. They were more comedic than romantic! He handled his emotional conflict well and his boyish demeanour disappeared as he sided with the Nazi party. A difficult role, well played.
Herr Zeller. Roy Morkham
A small role, but played with the necessary thuggish and threatening demeanour.
Admiral. Robbie Robertson
A good military air and a good attempt at the accent.
The chorus members all played several small roles, adding to the finished production. The singing of the nuns was delightful, the harmonies were lovely.
We both really enjoyed the production. The center steps and the foyer door gave extra entrances and exits, and particularly in the wedding scene, it really emphasized Maria’s lovely dress and train as she went up the steps. Microphones are necessary for a show of this size, but they were problematic at times. The choreography was sometimes a little predictable, and in the song, “Sixteen, going on Seventeen,” neither character seemed at ease with what they were asked to do. Perhaps if a group doesn’t have trained dancers, its best to keep dance numbers shorter and simpler. Sometimes the children’s mics were too loud, especially in Do-Re-Mi, but they sang with gusto and enthusiasm at all times. Even if the notes weren’t always quite right, they sang their hearts out and their enjoyment communicated itself to the audience. They made us smile! As most of them were playing their first roles on stage, I’m sure they will have learnt a lot. (It’s best not to blurt out “I’ve forgotten my line!”) All of us in amateur dramatics know that we cast from the people we have in our respective societies. Perhaps Gabriela as Liesl was a little younger than was ideal, but she coped well. There were some beautiful tableaux. The children gathered around Maria, and the wedding scene, with the nuns, the children and Maria and the Captain. A visual delight. For the concert hall scene, it was chilling when the Nazi flags dropped down and the soldiers took up their places. This was an enjoyable show, with great singing, excellent musicians and good characterisations. We, and the rest of the appreciative audience, had a lovely evening out.
We wish the Society every success in their future productions.
Jane Rayner and Anne Sexton