WHEN, in 1948, the Oldfield Park Rangers Company presented their first shows, Hiawatha and The Pirates of Penzance, no men were allowed in the cast.
Three years later, under the banner of the Bath Youth Operatic Group, they let the boys into the company. It was five years after the club’s first presentation, in 1956 in the Theatre Royal (its home ever since), they reflected the fact that the upper age limit had now been removed by changing the name to the Bath Light Opera Group.
They have never forgotten those youthful beginnings and the splendidly enthusiastic cast of principals and chorus director/choreographer David Baxter and MD Matthew Finch have assembled for this production reflects their constant wish to bring new young people into the company. From Lowri Mae Pugh and Frederick Spedo Mirandola, who played the roles of Young Fiona and Young Shrek on opening night [they share the roles with Emilia Quainton, Emmeline Blackburn and Cameron David Tew O’Mara] to Geoff White, (Lord Farquaad), whose list of principal roles for BLOG dates from before the first animated Shrek film, on which this show is based, was released in 2001, there was a feeling of complete commitment from all those on stage.
One of only 19 clubs throughout the country given a special licence to present this musical stage version of the Dreamworks film, BLOG had to pull out all the stops both backstage and on stage in order to make this, the show’s first appearance in Bath, worthy of the trust put in them by the show’s owners. Even on the opening performance, with only limited time to prepare the often complex presentation, thanks to fine work by production manager Nick Bartley and his team, there were few moments when the production did not flow smoothly.
On stage, under the firm guidance of David Baxter and Matthew Finch, the big production numbers, featuring an array of colourfully costumed fairytale characters, more than just passed muster. Apart from being a little lacking in height, which would have added to his frightening ogre presence, there was little not to like about George Miles’ very sincere portrait of Shrek. A lovely partnership developed between George and Lizzie Andrews’ feisty Princess Fiona. Full of stubborn independence, they blended together as well dramatically as they did vocally. The fast-talking, hard-working Ryan Hughes, as the slick-talking Donkey, never stopped working to ensure that this trio created a fair portion of laughs to go with the heavy pathos in this part of the story.
The other main source of comedy was placed at the door of Geoff White as the diminutive Lord Farquaad. Putting his vast experience to good use – it takes more than a little skill to play 99 per cent of a role on your knees – Geoff managed to get plenty of laughs from M’Lord while at the same time showing him as a man full of selfish evil-mindedness. For all the comedy skills on display, by Geoff and others, there was still a feeling that as a company they needed to relax more, and most certainly would as the week progressed, before the laughter really flowed freely.
A group of well-drawn and sung characters including Jill Kelly’s Wicked Witch, Harry Dallimore’s Pinocchio, the Katie Goldsmith duo, Gingy and the Sugar Plum Fairy, Grace Reynolds-Buckton as the Teen Fiona, Aimee Corbett and Dave Key-Pugh, a lovely uncaring comic Mama and Papa Ogre and Grace Baxter the voice behind the imposing Dragon, showed the strength and depth to be found in this ambitious company.