A Chorus of Disapproval, Frome Drama Club at the Merlin Theatre, Frome

ANYONE who has ever had dealings with amateur musical or dramatic societies will recognise the set-up in Alan Ayckbourn’s brilliant comedy, A Chorus of Disapproval, Frome Drama Club’s autumn production at the Merlin in November 2014.

There is the endearing old couple, company stalwarts who are slightly despised by the younger (but not necessarily more talented members), the handsome (and not very talented) young man lusted after by various young (and not so young) female members, the pillar of local business and council life and his dissatisfied wife, the director who is struggling to bring “art” to the provinces and the new recruit, a figure of fascination and fantasy …

Of course this is Ayckbourn, so it’s much more than a parade of stereotypes – all the characters are delineated with razor sharp perception, none more so than the ghastly “swingers,” Ian and Fay Hubbard (David Holt and Carol Lewis), who turn their dubious charms on the hapless new member Guy Jones (Laurie Parnell). I was interested to see that FDC will be stagng Abigail’s Party next spring – the Hubbards would be quite at home in Mike Leigh’s scarifying social comedy.

The clever thing about A Chorus of Disapproval is the double-casting – most of the characters who are members of Pendon Amateur Light Opera Society are also playing parts in John Gay’s The Beggars Opera.

Only Dafydd ap Llewellyn, the director, the belligerently professional Welshman (Anthony Davies – congratulations on the accent and the Welsh singing!), is himself throughout.

Director Philip de Glanville had a cast who both looked and sang their parts to perfection – Alan Burgess was perfect as the kindly musical director, Becky Baxter was pert and beguiling as Polly Peachum and emotionally and physically awkward as the frustrated Hannah, Sarah-Jane Worrall sang beautifully as Lucy Lockit and was spiky and jealous as Linda Washbrook, Mike Walker was scarily convincing as the appalling Jarvis Huntley-Pike (Mr Ayckbourn knows a thing or two about small town politics, doesn’t he), and David Gatliff was touching as the ageing Ted Washbrook, sniggered at behind his back, but one of those dedicated and reliable performers who are the backbone of so many amateur groups.

Laurie Purnell as Guy is the hapless fool at the centre of the mayhem, the shy new recruit who progresses from chorus to speaking parts and finally to the leading role of MacHeath without actually doing anything much more than turning up for rehearsals, looking rather handsome and singing in tune. He was equally convincing as the rising star whose talents are allowed to shine and the naive widower around whom plots both sexual and commercial are woven.

This was another triumph for the versatile and hugely talented Frome Drama Club. KN


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