AFTER my glowing review of their their production of Princess Ida last Summer, Bath Gilbert and Sullivan Society invited me to their Old Time Music Hall. I drove to the Mission Theatre this afternoon amidst the traffic chaos caused by a home rugby fixture exacerbated by roadworks and an accident, arriving just in time, and was delighted to find that such a show was almost sold out, as it had been on the two previous evenings. The programme gave interesting notes about the history of Music Hall, the heydays of which, as our chairman reminded us, roughly spanned the hundred years from 1840 to the outbreak of the Second World War. The notes also covered Bath’s Pavillion Music Hall, latterly a ballroom, and finally a bingo hall, now demolished, but with the facade preserved, to become the front of Bath’s latest consumer venture, a casino.
The afternoon’s entertainment gave everything I would expect from Music Hall, mainly musical numbers, solos, duets, and fully-choreographed company numbers of different styles, with a couple of delightful monologues, performed with such panache they must surely be regular party pieces, by Paul Dyson, and some good old fashioned comedy in the form of Kevin Miles as Cecil with the show’s director Juliette Coad as his straight lady Sissy, both with excellent timing. This couple were also impressive as the Couple of Swells, with good singing and a great routine
The chairman, Mr Derek Smith was completely in control, with his long lists of amazingly alliterative adjectives and magnificently monumental metaphors, as well as giving us the musical melodrama of No, No, a Thousand Times No, from the film Betty Boop.
Barbara Goldsack gave a wonderful rendition of I Want To Sing in Opera, which appropriately enough, after a couple of beautifully-tuned barbershop numbers from four of the men, was followed by classically-trained soprano Ruth McKibbin, who gave a delightful rendition of After The Ball is Over, before joining the company as Mabel in Poor Wandering One from Pirates of Penzance, and enchanting us with Ivor Novello’s We’ll Gather Lilacs.
My happy memories of The Good Old Days on the BBC were evoked many times, from Owen Cole and John Ditcham’s Bold Gendarmes to the latter’s Lost Chord, and the Gilbert and Sullivan opening to the second half proved their expertise to great effect, from the musical comedy of A Policeman’s Lot to the beautifully sung choral Hail Poetry, with sensitivity and superb dynamics. We were treated to Marie Lloyd’s Boy in the Gallery by Sandra McPherson and Burlington Bertie made an appearance, thanks to the very dapper Audrey Hutchinson, bravely soldiering on with a broken wrist sustained during rehearsals. Medleys of familiar songs were performed by the whole company, with some lovely solos, encouragement to sing along from the words provided and everything accompanied by the two pianos of Musical Director Kerry Bishop and Natalie Morton, and the drums of Dennis Wighton. Bishop’s musical knowledge added a subtle layer of its own with extra fills and harmonies, especially during The Lost Chord.
This was a great afternoon’s entertainment, with well-chosen slides of original performers and sheet music projected behind the stage, and with the only modern equivalent being hosted on BBC1 and ITV by comedians such as Michael McIntyre and Bradley Walsh from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the Palladium respectively, it is good to know that this sort of thing, when executed so well, can still pack them in. I hope Matt Ford continues his occasional Sunday Nights of variety at the Hippodrome in Bristol, and that this society will make Music Hall a regular on Bath’s theatrical calendar.