Thursday, 28 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 20 (Stop Dreamin' at Guildford)

 I have just seen Stop Dreamin' at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, where it's running till 6th November.

Sad to report that it didn't really work for me - though I did hear audience members say otherwise, both during the interval and at the end.

In fairness to Ray Cooney, he has dropped a character since a tryout in Windsor (Royce Mills, the imaginary "Mr Music" who only the dad could hear) so there must have been a lot of frantic rewriting, and perhaps all it needs is more time to develop.

But on the basis of what I saw last night, despite the verve of the performances and the effective use of some of the Chas and Dave songs, it seemed less than the sum of its parts, and I'm afraid that was down to the book - in other words, the Cooney end of things.

There might have been nothing intrinsically wrong with the plot (pre-Guildford synopsis here) except that we weren't really given time to absorb each new turn, and time which could have been used to explore character seemed to be allocated to yet more songs, even on those occasions when there wasn't a sense of the action absolutely demanding it.

In Reasons to Be Cheerful (previous post), by contrast, there's quite a slow buildup to the lead and his workmate finally getting it together, so that the audience are willing it to happen, and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick is placed exactly right as an explosive celebration of that moment.

There were examples in Srop Dreamin' of the music working well - Ain't No Pleasin' You (the number Joe Brown sang on Saturday) was a duet between drunken husband and absconding wife, and Rabbit was transformed into banter between a barmaid and four regulars.

But even though you warmed to the performances - and there were some big hitters, tellywise, in the cast, including Cliff Parisi as the dad - the actors didn't seem to have been given a whole lot to work with.

Example: the family take in a lodger. Oh - he's West Indian (this is 1962). Oh - the dad is taken aback. Oh - he's okay now. Or the wife's all packed up to leave. Oh - she's won round. (He gives us a thumbs up as he closes the door with the missus safely back inside.) Later, she's falling for her dancing instructor. Oh - she's decided to stay with her husband ... actually, in fairness to that last one, she's been away in Switzerland for a couple of months where their daughter has been having an operation. The grandad's going to be put in a home, as he keeps wandering around the streets in his longjohns. Oh - no he's not.

But I was also aware, after about five minutes, that this was not for me, so please consider these remarks with that in mind. I'm not particularly a fan of Chas and Dave and I went hoping to find links with the Stratford East tradition. This ain't that. The core of realism in What a Crazy World (to judge from the film) is nowhere to be found in Stop Dreamin', which is wholly nostalgiac and undemanding. I think the publicity refers to it as a musical for all the family and it's certainly that: there's nothing that a ten year old could object to or find baffling. Essentially, it's a comic strip, punctuated by lots of songs, some of which fit better than others. The official description:
Stop Dreamin’ is a fun, feel-good mixture of rousing cockney songs, wistful lullabies, and energetic comedy certain to have you dancing in the aisles and rolling with laughter.

Maybe there just ain't no pleasin' me.

Bottom line: if you like Chas and Dave, you will hear a lot of their music performed with gusto. Maybe that's enough. Chas was actually present last night. Wonder what he thought?

Official youtube channel for Stop Dreamin' here.
Myspace page with medley of songs from the show here.
From Ray Cooney's own website, the most detailed synopsis I could find of the show, here, but in its pre-Guildford "Mr Music" version.

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