A pair of extremely contrasting musical theatre events this weekend. On Saturday to Covent Garden to see a performance of Mark Antony Turnage's new opera Anna Nicole. Then on Sunday we saw Pimlico Opera performing Jule Styne's musical Sugar at HMP Send, with a mixed cast of professionals and inmates.
There is no doubt that Anna Nicole is a terrific show, but I'm not sure whether its a terrific opera. A full review will appear in due course.
Sugar was amazing. Sugar (Victoria Ward), Jerry (Duncan Patrick), Joe (Rob Gildon) and dancers Philippe Reynolds and Adam Scown were the only professionals in the cast with the remaining roles and chorus all being taken by a group of hard working inmates. Being a womens prison of course, this meant that the women played everything, from flappers and floozies, to gangsters and lascivious old men, with remarkable success.
No, the performance wasn't perfect, but the energy and vivacity of the cast were infectious and the gangster were pretty scarily effective.
Michael Moody's production (in Kate Guinness's set) was ingenious, with audience on opposite sides of a rectangle, the beach at one end, the train and the band at the other. The draw back was that sight lines were not perfect and with a mixed ability cast, having the conductor off stage visible only via TV monitor was not ideal. Perhaps Moody felt that the occasional moment of rhythmic instability in the chorus was a small price to pay for such a brilliant use of space.
Toby Purser was the hard working, behind the scenes conductor. Designs were by Kate Guinness and Tania Spooner.
It is a strange experience, going to the theatre in a prison. But the energy, exuberance and sheer enthusiasm of the cast were infectious. I only hope that something of this rubs off when the circus leaves and life gets back to normal routine.