Oklahoma!, Yeovil Amateur Operatic Society at Westlands

IN recent years, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical Oklahoma has had something of a makeover, with hard-edged productions delighting critics and audiences. Now it’s the turn for Yeovil’s own remarkable musical theatre community, under the direction of Sheila Driver, to present a version that strips away the sentimentality, leaving the lush songs, poignant romance, sexual threat and high comedy to stand their ground … and the result is sensational.

The company has put down roots in its temporary home at Westlands, turning the inherent difficulties of the arena into opportunities for more audience involvement. In this show it all starts with the auditorium bathed in sunlight as cowboy Curly climbs the “fencing” at the side of the raked seats to sing of the bright golden haze on the meadow. Without an orchestra pit, the excellent 12-piece band under the direction of Jessamy Bowditch is hidden stage-side behind the “barn” doors, which open out onto the floor of the auditorium for a few speedy exits.

Sheila Driver has assembled an exceptional company for the show, who have brought out some telling and tender moments from what can seem like an all-too-familiar script. The relationships between the characters were deeply explored and intensely portrayed, bringing a timeless realism to the story. If there is one problem with the show it is that the dance sequences, however well performed, are much too long, especially in the dream scene.

Nick Harris is a chippy and coy Curly, and the easy banter with Amy McIntosh’s delightful Laurey made their hesitant romance totally believable. Ali Enticott’s Aunt Eller has all the spark and anger and love without any of the corny schmaltz with which it is usually played. Leah Driver is a barnstorming Ado Annie, with Will Poulton as the all singing all dancing Will Parker and Nick Toop as the peddlerman, Ali Hakim. Jasmine Boniface must have practiced that laugh until it hurt!

Perhaps the outstanding performance among this terrific cast comes from Luke Whitchurch as Jud Fry. Lumberingly tall, solitary, dirty and downright peculiar, he is an object of fun and fear, valued only for his strength. Rod Steiger played him in the 1955 film, and that’s the image that has remained. Luke Whitchurch manages to find depths of misery and angry isolation in the often-omitted Lonely Room that make the audience gasp.

There are still seats at Westlands for this production, which shows YAOS at its very best – and you will be singing the songs for weeks.


“The farmer and the cowman should be friends”, wrote Oscar Hammerstein II in 1943. It’s a message that should be sounding out loud and clear in the political communities of America now if that great country is ever to finds its way back.

Photographs by Len Copland

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