First Half Opening Chorus:
Chris Argles, Colin Welling, Roger Keightley
‘Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady’
‘Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight’ – Monologue
‘Maria Martin or The Murder In The Red Barn’
‘The Face On The Bar-Room Floor’ – Monologue
‘The Honeysuckle and The Bee’ – Song
Sue Pinkstone and Mark Langston
‘I Beg Your Pardon’ – Song
Rosemary Smyter and Chris Argles
‘Uncle Tom’s Nabbin’’
‘The Coulsdon and Purley Minstrels’
Second Half Opening Chorus
Chris Argles, Michael Briggs, Rosemary Quin
‘The Girl and the Boob’ – Song
Jane Briggs and Graham Webb
‘Vaudeville Will Never Die’
‘Tail-Piece’ – Monologue
‘Goddess of the Silver Screen’
‘Burlington Bertie’ – Song
The Entire Company
David Beazley, Peggy Lathom
The Entire Company
Reviewed by G.M.P. For The Croydon Advertiser, Friday January 21st 1972
Far from the ‘Old Time’ Spirit
It almost seems as if the Clerk of the Weather has a grudge against Theatre Workshop Coulsdon.
As usual there was a tropical downpour on Saturday for their latest public performance, but this time the conditions didn’t deter quite a large audience from assembling at the Chipstead Valley Road headquarters to see this enterprising group branch out into a new entertainment sphere; old-time vaudeville.
Perhaps it was a pity so many people went to see this who hadn’t been to their earlier gutsy and adventurous shows, because this exercise in a very specialised and exacting convention didn’t really find them at their best. The spirit of the old, rorty, survival-of-the-fittest music hall escaped then, and while it is true they are all too young to have seen it in its heyday, they could – as a member of the audience remarked to me – have found its flavour unimpaired at the Players’ Theatre in London.
The key to Workshop’s comparative failure was, I think, to be found on the back page of the programme, in the declaration “Producers – The Entire Company.” For such a difficult medium, this sort of blind-leading-the-blind approach isn’t good enough, and I’m sure a knowledgeable and objective director, looking at the show from the outside, would have slammed down on the over-long sketches; the ill-learned lines, the songs prolonged beyond tolerance, and the self-indulgent smirking at their own jokes.
Again, the performers of the old halls had an attack and projection that often transformed the banal into the dynamic, while the chorus at Coulsdon were oddly genteel and tentative for a crowd who have so often done such uninhibited work.
A forceful and expert director could have licked some of these sprawling turns into shape and prevented one from having to note that some of the very faults they were mocking in one sketch were present in their own right in others!
I understand that they did have some casting difficulties and complications owing to illness, but if they are going to continue to play to bigger audiences – and I hope they are – they must be less complacent and slap-happy in their attitude.
It saddened me, for instance, to find an attractive elocutionist, given the old tear-jerker “Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight,” spoiling the effect by giggling, not knowing the lines (it wasn’t just one slip, the whole of the second part leaned unfairly on the prompter) and such silly tricks as blowing at the lock of hair that had escaped from her cap.
How this kind of monologue, once so popular, should be treated was demonstrated later by Roger Keightley, who remains the member of this company with most mature dramatic technique (though occasionally enthusiasm leads him into overdoing things). Here, in the sentimental “Face on the Bar-Room Floor,” he stilled the titters that greeted the beginning of the mawkish piece and held the audience expertly by the authority with which he recounted the story of the drunken artist and his poignant (!) rejection by the girl he loved.
With more attack and rehearsal, the Black and White Minstrel item would have been engaging; and, with a better script, so would the potted pantomime. Chris Argles, though the forced falsetto voice was a bit of a strain on us as well as on him, was a funny and spritely Widow Twanky; Rosemary Smyter a charming and demure princess; Roger Keightley a seedily comic Abanazar; and Marion Cope a very pretty principal boy who needed just a little more arrogant confidence to be a “wow.”
The most successful sketch of the evening, because it was the most sharply pointed, was “Goddess of the Silver Screen.” In it Fay Smith proved an excellent comedienne as the dim-witted, corncrake-voiced star of the silent films; and Mark Langston delivered the punch-line effectively.
Jane Briggs looked good in her Edwardian fig but hadn’t enough variety of style to sustain the interminable verses and choruses of her songs, or enough of the authentic vaudeville manner for the cross-talk.