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REVIEW: Grantham Dramatic Society performed 'world premiere' with aplomb

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Grantham Dramatic Society (GDS) put on a tour de force performance of a brand new play for four nights at Guildhall Arts Centre.

Written by GDS member Andy Antony, ‘One Night in Grantham’ was given its world premiere last Wednesday and closed on Saturday night.

It was the first GDS production to feature singing and dancing, and the talented Mr Antony was also responsible for writing the music and lyrics, as well as producing, and directing the production alongside Mary O’Neill.

Paul Connor, as Oliver Walsh, is given a fright by dummy Wilbur. (23799465)
Paul Connor, as Oliver Walsh, is given a fright by dummy Wilbur. (23799465)

The plot revolved around a fictitious run-down Grantham theatre and its equally failing manager Oliver Walsh, played with relish by Paul Connor.

The night in question sees the theatre putting on a talent night final, whilst Oliver goes about leaving his cheating wife and resigning from his job.

The play began with a song and dance routine, leading into a pre-talent night meeting between Oliver and his secretary Gwen Lightyear (Lisabeth Connor), with the introduction of ‘local celebrity’ Rita Razzle (Briony Sparrow) – known for her wink.

Briony Sparrow as Rita Razzle. (23800859)
Briony Sparrow as Rita Razzle. (23800859)

The action switches to a dressing room gathering of the talent night’s acts – Geordie ventriloquist Larry Marx (Nick Croft) and his somewhat disturbing dummy Wilbur, aspiring singer/songwriter Jay Haye (Luke William), established Scouse singer Lisa Bradley (Siobhan Croft) and her bullying Liverpudlian manager Charlie Snipe (Alan Bontoft), veteran singer Max Moffatt (John Sheppard) and his wife Lucy Moffatt (Rosemary Gibson), and mysterious masked magician Karl Starkey (Mark Brown).

The pace picks up when Lisa and Charlie’s bickering turns nasty and she accidently stabs him to death with his own knife, the corpse conveniently falling into ventriloquist Larry’s doll case. The argument had centred around him wanting the talent night prize money to help pay off his substantial gambling debts.

With only talent night compere Rita aware of what has happened, the talent night itself commences with capri-panted Jay giving it the full belt and braces as he sang with the backing of four dancers, the highlight of the troupe being the Mr Bean-like Daniele Petruzzo who had the audience in stitches with his moves. Choreographed by Siobhan Croft, the other dancers were Sharon Hurrell, Nicki McKay and Joy Wilson.

The dance troupe. (23799458)
The dance troupe. (23799458)

Next on stage is ageing rocker Max, again with a dance accompaniment.

Back stage in Oliver’s office, Gwen expresses her feelings for her boss, and he secretly switches the £50k talent night prize money from the safe to his desk drawer.

Rita introduces Lisa on to the stage, with Siobhan pulling out all the stops to deliver her character’s emotional performance with some real angst.

Back in the office, magician Karl bursts in and holds Oliver, Gwen and Rita at gunpoint, demanding the prize money for himself. They tell him the sponsors are yet to send the cash, but he wants to check in the safe. Gwen manages to knock Karl out with her handbag in a scuffle.

The corpse in the case had been thrown out but ventriloquist Larry retrieves the trunk and goes on stage with it, pulling out Charlie’s lifeless body instead of the inanimate Wilbur.

By the time the police arrive, in Detective Smirch (Vicky Aves), Karl has done a runner and the blame for the murder and the missing £50k is put firmly on the missing magician’s shoulders.

Star-crossed young lovers Jay and Lisa walk off into the sunset, as do Oliver and Gwen with £50k in their pockets, whilst the talent show final winner was decided by the audience as clapometer – with ventriloquist Larry taking the vote but not the loot.

The play culminated with a musical curtain call that crowned a remarkably special all-round GDS performance, with Andy Antony giving a final speech of gratitude on the Saturday night.

As well all the talented performances on stage, not to mention all the hard graft backstage, Andy’s script and music stood up so very well to works by established, professional writers that I am sure ‘One Night in Grantham’ would be transferable to any other town theatre company, and Andy should therefore look to it to being published without further ado.

The next GDS production will be Roman romp ‘Vice Versa’ in May 2020.

+ If you are interested in joining GDS, visit the group’s website or search via Facebook.

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