Ye Olde Rose and Crown is an unassuming venue in the heart of Walthamstow, which thanks to resident company All Star Productions has managed to generate a unique following, specifically from those who enjoy revivals of somewhat forgotten classics. Their latest production of Little Me brings the rare CY Coleman score to life, and allows Neil Simon’s witty and sharp book to flourish.
Whilst production values aren’t particularly high, there is much to enjoy in this high energy production. The cast work hard between them to each portray a mix of characters spanning multiple time frames, locations and situations which allows for necessary overacting and appropriately camp pastiche numbers. Much of the comic force is driven by Daniel Cane’s triumphant performance as Noble etc, which saw him take on a total of 6 lead roles, each one more ridiculous than the next. He is a real comedian and understands the tone of Simon’s book perfectly. His voice is rich and expressive, yet at its strongest in each of the character roles. He is matched by Emma Odell as Belle, who plays the role with the perfect level of satire and is able to carry the narrative and play a wide scope of ages. Her vocals are impressive throughout, and the piece is at its strongest when she is left alone onstage belting like a young Carolee Carmello.
Despite the strength of the central performances, the cast was not without its weak links, and despite their unanimous energy throughout each of the production numbers, it was their acting that was the most varied. Whilst Cane’s accent managed to shift accordingly, many of the cast struggled with basic American, adding to the slightly amateurish delivery by some of the supporting cast. Some highlights in the supporting roles included Alistair Knights as Benny Buchsbaum, the gangster producer and Ben Oliver as Patrick Dennis, who had the enviable task of following the older Belle with a tape recorder to collect the memoirs on which the show is based.
Chris Whittaker’s choreography was ambitious yet well delivered, displaying a wide range of styles perfectly suited to each number. The energy was palpable throughout, and it was during these moments that the piece really shone, and Coleman’s score was easiest to enjoy. Aaron Clingham’s musical direction was sensitive yet bold in all the right places, with the onstage band sitting under the acoustic vocals perfectly – a definite challenge for smaller venues. The company vocals were clean and tight, without feeling overwhelming.
Brendan Matthew’s direction was successful in keeping the piece moving, and he managed to set the comic pace well. The expansive book throws up multiple staging problems, but the minimalist approach was well executed. At times the focus was somewhat muddled and we were never told why we were enjoying Belle’s story, making the whole piece seem inconsequential. A large framing device, in which the whole cast enjoyed a pre-set and danced overture that would have been more at home in ‘High Society’, never recapitulated. This was representative of the production as a whole, where a lot of good ideas germinated, but were incomplete and didn’t tie the piece solidly enough together.
What let the production down was the overall execution of the design and production values. Considering the relative market on the fringe (tickets to Little Me are £15/12) everything felt unstable and slapdash, with visible breaks in the set and props falling apart left right and centre. The production bills itself as the ‘Professional London Revival’, and despite the professionalism shown by many on the production team and cast, the production itself is simply not at a professional level. Stewart Charlesworth’s set design was inventive and added to the story, but the delivery felt rushed. The lighting design was erratic and unnecessary, constantly fighting with the staging rather than enhancing it.
Despite being an moderate summer’s day, the above the pub venue was excruciatingly hot – and as the piece runs for almost three hours, this did prove to be quite a problem. I can only advise those visiting the show over the bank holiday heat wave to take a cold compress and as TFL so kindly remind us, a bottle of water. This is a rare chance to see this lively musical, and I would encourage people to take a chance on something new, if only to see the impressive lead cast in some challenging and extremely unique roles.
Little Me is playing at the Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre in Walthamstow from 13 – 31st August 2013
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