The longest day was a fitting time to check out Matlock Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s 21st anniversary show.
Like the film which drew its title from the longest day of the year, the society has also used the Second World War as the basis on which to build this week’s production of Patience.
Posters proclaiming Dig On For Victory, Pay No Heed To Rumours and Careless Talk Costs Lives adorn screens surrounding the stage at the Medway Centre in Bakewell, sandbags are piled up on the floor and bunting is festooned across the front of one of the performance platforms.
Act one ends in dramatic fashion with an air raid siren and Susan Devaney as the comical warden Jane barking at the audience to ‘Put those lights out’ before searchlights rake the stage. Act two opens with musical director Melanie Gilbert making her way to the conductor’s podium as the all-clear siren fades into the distance.
Orchestra members capture the spirit of the show by playing the theme tune from Dad’s Army and wartime songs such as Run Rabbit Run and White Cliffs of Dover.
The nice but dim Patience of the title is a Land Girl, rather than a milkmaid, and is beautifully sung by Helen Booker whose pretty, lilting voice skips along the top notes with consummate ease.
Helen shines in a number of songs including the duet Long Years Ago, Fourteen Maybe, which she sings with society chairman Liz McKenzie in the role of Lady Angela.
Set in a time of matinee idols, this production transforms the protagonists Bunthorne and Grosvenor into film stars and includes contemporary references to Leslie Howard and Noel Coward.
Patience opens with a parade of the female chorus advancing to one of the comic operetta’s stand-out songs Twenty Lovesick Maidens We. With ranks depleted to 13, they make the song their own by singing about ladies rather than maidens on account of their varying ages.
However, the winning ensemble is the motley crew which makes up the Home Guard, led by producer Nic Wilson doing his best Captain Mainwaring impression in the role of Col Calverley. The volunteer soldiers march on carrying rifles, apart from one who bears a pitchfork with rubber balls protecting his allies from a two-pronged attack.
Much of the comedy revolves around the volunteer soldiers’ battle to win back their lady loves from the matinee idols. A particularly impressive scene involves the Home Guard circling their targets who are oblivious to their campaign because their heads are turned by a dashing film star.
Simon Brister and Jim Fearn as the heart-throb actors give outstanding performances which play a big part in the success of the show.
Deliberate over-the-top, flamboyant acting by Simon provides much mirth and he delivered his tricky patter song perfectly at the performance last night (Friday, June 21).
Jim’s experience in larger theatres shines through his powerfully sung pieces and well-projected characterisation of the uber-vain Grosvenor.
Patience has its last performance at the Medway Centre tonight (Saturday, June 22). To quote a line from Bunthorne: “If you are fond of touch-and-go jocularity - this is the shop for it.”