Oh What A Lovely War'
And who better to do that than the multi-talented Charity Players, who act, sing and dance as if born to it and, with the addition of their equally multi-talented director Neil Mathieson, choreographer Georgina Smith, musical director James Stead and the fantastic Swing Unlimited Big Band to provide the accompaniment for those wonderful wartime songs, made for a glorious evening that had the audience cheering to the rafters
No wonder. Super costumes, marvellously evocative back-screen graphics and a ration book programme were the pastry on the Woolton Pie and couldn’t have been better.
There were so many highlights too, amoung which Max Miller, an hilarious cookery session, an airman parachuting to earth, the poignant You’ll Never Know and a highly energetic dance finale have resolutely refused to leave my mind.
'Happy As A Sandbag'
EVEN before the dazzling opening number of this Second World War revue burst upon the stage, the cast arrived in style on Christchurch High Street, Sir Winston Chuichill, complete with cigar and trademark V for Victory salute, stepped from a jeep and strode into the theatre, setting the scene for an evening of nostalgia and patriotism. Flags and ration books, (what perfect programmes) were handed out and the years rolled back to September 1939, just before the start of hostilities.
This talented company of around two dozen players soon painted a vivid picture of life in those turbulent times with wonderful music of the era, costumes which were complete in every detail (down to seamed nylons and suspenders) and appearances by many important people in the spotlight. There was a moving moment when Neville Chamberlain made the announcement to folk huddled around their radios, that Britain was at war and another as Winston Churchill made his "We shall never surrender" speech on becoming Prime Minister. Back projections of newspaper headlines and images ofunderground air raid shelters during the London blitz added to the atmosphere while the cheery Hokey Cokey, Lambeth Walk and Knees Up Mother Brown dance numbers showed up so well that spirits remained high.
In complete contrast an image of pure pathos came with a young pregnant wife holding a telegram and singing the poignant You'll Never Know Just How Much I Miss You - how often those sentiments must have been uttered. Bitter sweet moments, too as couples looked back on That Lovely Weekend, honeymooners recalled Room 504 and servicemen and women parted from their sweethearts with those familiar words We'll Meet Again. Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, Carmen Miranda and even cartoon pin up Jane of the Mirror starred but the shapely and melodious trio of the Andrew Sisters stole the show for me with their close-hamrmony songs. Comedy was provided by Cheeky Chappy Max Miller and Tommy Handley while there was a magnificent cameo by the lady demonstrator of cooking in Wartime. Whether she was showing how to create Woolton Pie or handing out the basket of rations to a bemused audience member she brought the house down. Glimpses of girls working in factories also provided a reminder that the women helped keep those homes fire burning while the chaps were away fighting and that the war was finally won by be efforts of civilians and military alike. The Home Guard with more than a nod to Dads Army amused with their sterling efforts and letters written from home opened and read by the Sergeant Major caused much merriment and audience participation.
After a chilling tirade from the evil Mr Hitler to remind us that it had been a long struggle, this well paced and slick production moved seamlessly on to the joy of Victory in Europe Day, with the evocative Last Post and the message Lest we forget, 1939 - 1945, Flags were enthusiastically waved and voices raised for the rousing There'll Always Be An England before the energetic company jitterbugged in a lively final, to the music of the Swing Unlimited Big Band who excelled throughout with authentic sounds of the 1940s. Wonderful work by director Neil Mathieson, choreographer Georgina Smith and musical director James Stead, together with every member of the Highcliffe Charity Players on and off stage - made this is a truly memorable show. Look out for their panto Sleeping Beauty in January 2009.