Nymph Errant

Lillian Bayliss Theatre Sadlerís Wells, 23 April 2006

 

Review by Emma Shane,© 28 April 2006

 

It is nearly a dozen years since I started going to see The Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTM shows, at The Barbican. Back then, knowing nothing about them, I remember worrying whether the performers (whose names were at that time completely unknown to me) would be any good. Over the years I have come to trust Ian Marshall-Fisherís ability to find good performers, especially when it comes to staging works with music by Cole Porter (which need to be sung just so Ė though there is room for a bit of livening up as long as the performer knows that they are doing with it). Nevertheless just occasionally one comes across a number that is so special one can still worry whether he will have cast a performer who can do it justice. In this particular case the role of Evangeline Edwards in Nymph Errant. Although I had no idea who on earth would be likely to play the role, especially given the characterís supposed age; I was actually quite relieved on opening the programme, to find this key character played by Issy Van Randwyck, simply because from what Iíve heard of her work before (especially with regards to Cole Porterís Kiss Me Kate), I felt there would be a good chance of her being able to make the songs her own. I was also pleased to find a good number of the cast were very much old hands at the Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTM shows.

 

Sometimes in these Lost Musicals Charitable Trust shows, during his introductions Ian Marshall-Fisher has on occasion found himself somewhat upstaged by one or other of the members of his company (I can recall witnessing at least two incidents when the culprit was a certain muppet of a Lost Musicals singer); this time, it is the pianist, Jason Carr Ė he just wants to make sure we know he is determined to play for their next show, Flower Drum Song.

Ian goes on to compare himself to Charles Blake Cochrane, and inform us that Gay Soper will be playing four roles (we already knew that from the programme), and James Vaughan will be firing guns off-stage Ė surely heís joking!

Introduction over, time for the overture. Jason is a consummate professional (probably one of the best, and noisiest pianists in the Lost Musicals gang), and so plays quite satisfactorily, given his lack of rehearsal time.

 

First scene, Oxford 1933 Corinna Powlesland as Aunt Ermyntrudeís maid Winnie quickly proves herself to have a Julie Walters touch about her, only welcomely subtler; meeting sharp Edith Sandford, played with a good deal of intentional dissagreeableness by Sarah Crowden. We soon meet Thelma Rubyís totally dotty Aunt Ermyntrude. I didnít exactly warm to this character, but then weíre not really meant to; followed by Edithís father played perfectly satisfactorily by Bob Sinfeld, and the man who really carried the scene, a vicar named Pither, to which Stewart Permitt (I thought his name used to be spelt Stewart Permutt) brings his vast comedy experience. Pither makes a bet with Edith that it would be possible for an English girl to travel round the world and remain unmolested. Unusually for a Cole Porter musical, this first scene actually has no songs in it. I mean one expects that sort of thing with say Sondheim, one doesnít expect it with Porter.

 

Scene 2, in Evangelineís Bedroom at boarding school in Lausanne, we find a German girl, Bertha, played rather well by Mountview trained Jennifer Reischel, making coco. Enter jolly hockeysticks tomboy of a school girl, Joyce Arbuthnot-Palmer, played with, well sincerity, actually, by Selina Chilton. At first I didnít think much of her style of evening dress, until I realised that it matched the character she was portraying. She is followed by the American Henrietta Bamberg, a totally different role for Corinna Powlesland, which she played with delightful contrast, then the French Madeleine played by Rachel Stanley, and finally our leading lady, Evangeline Edwards herself played by Issy Van Randwyck. This scene in particular demonstrates just how much this show was geared towards an English market; with itís jolly hockeysticks, kind of attitude. Just what people who grew up reading Angela Brazil et al would want to see in a musical. Enter Gay Soper as Chemistry teacher Miss Pratt urging the gels to Experiment with regards to their love lives, and making that song very much her brilliant own, even if the five gels provide a great backing chorus. Interestingly the song (along with several others from the show) was recorded by Gertrude Lawrence, with the result that nobody now seems to remember who original actress was who sang it.

 

Scene 3, Miss Pratt sees Evangeline into her railway carriage, where she is soon joined by a French theatrical producer, Andre De Croissant, played, by an actor who seems to be coming rather a fixture in these shows, ever versatile comic actor James Vaughan. For once heís only billed as playing one character., but itís certainly different to almost any of his previous Lost Musicals characters. The only thing it has in common is that itís funny; especially when Monseiur De Croissant gets well, rather crazy about Evangeline. I was actually surprised how convincingly good he was in the part. This guy canít half act. This results in Issyís first solo Itís Bad For Me. Early ironic Cole Porter at its best, and of course wonderfully sung, by a lady who knows how to handle light and shade in a song. They are joined by Mme Arthur, a more pleasant role for Sarah Crowden (yes she can play pleasant), and, Hercule (Mme Arthurís son), a more interesting role for Bob Sinfield.

 

Scene 4, A Beach at Neuville & Bar, opens with pretty much the entire company singing Neauville Sur Mer. A perfectly pleasant song, though it didnít make any lasting impression. Andre is trying to persuade Evangeline to sign a contract to become leading lady in his next revue, but she doesnít want to, and in the end, when Madeline (whose man friend put her through finishing school to become a lady, but then dumped her) turns up, he takes her on as his actress. Gay Soper, in her second role as an aging Cocotte, wanders on to sing Cocotte. This is a great, rather delightful risquť number. Yet lyrically it requires careful handling, which is exactly what Gay Soper gives it. I cannot think of very many actresses who would have the right skills to handle this song as convincingly as she does, although I think Stephanie Putson could probably do it as much justice. Here we meet depressed Russian band-player Alexi, another good comedy role for Stewart Permitt, and a super confident Count, played by Bryan Torfeh, who pretends to speak to Evangeline in Alexiís behalf, while really trying to ask her to visit him himself. However, Alexi and Evangeline do get together, she makes How Could We Be Wrong her own and the go off to Paris.

 

Scene 5, takes place in a Cafe in Paris, where a waiter is played by Andrew Bevis.Evangeline is hungry. But they have no money to eat. We learn that Alexi and Evangeline have been living very properly separately, but meeting for meals. Evangeline asks Pedro played by Bob Sinfield (his third role) if he would employ her as a model, when that doesnít work out, she goes to borrow someoneís newspaper to look for a job, itís Joyce, now living with a struggling artist, who rather like her late mother (well Joyce is very much her fatherís daughter); she is there to meet someone who will hopefully buy her boyfriendís paintings, this turns out to be Count, so Evangeline goes off with him for a meal.

 

The Count has some money, but not enough, so lets out his family home in Venice to American tourists, here we find servant Manfredo leading most of The Company (as the other household staff) with Theyíre Always Entertaining. This was a great entertaining number. I canít think why it isnít better known. It had some splendid lyrics, and the company performed it with great verve. The touristís are in fact Henrietta and her mother Mrs Samuel Lee Bamberg, a third role for versatile Gay Soper, and quite different to her previous two. She has a lovely monologue in which she welcomes the various guests they have invited that evening. She wants Henrietta to marry Count, and gets her to sing Cazanova to the guests. Although this musical may be written for the English market, I do remember thinking this song had a certain dirty element to it, which is rather typical of Cole Porter, although for him it was perhaps a bit mild. Count manages to dump Evangeline on his Friend/Enemya Greek businessman named Constantine, superbly played by Matt Zimmerman. Evangeline laments her lot, she seems to spend her life wandering around, with the Act 1 finale & title song Nymph Errant. - Just the place where title songs seem to have a habit of occurring in Cole Porter musicals (well in Anything Goes, Du Barry Was A Lady, and, Kiss Me Kate at any rate). Itís great to hear this rather lesser known song. Musically is sounded quite dramatic Ė or was that Jason Carrís playing of it?

 

Act 2ís Scene 1 opens in Athens with almost the entire company (James Vaughan was noticeably absent) singing Ruins. Another song Iíd never heard before. It proved to be a good ensemble piece; Cole Porter knew a thing or two about writing good travel songs. Evangeline encounters Bertha who is living in sin with an archaeologist whose secretary she is.

 

Scene 2 takes place in Constantineís house in Smyrna, where Evangeline is waiting for Constantine to come back from buying her a dress. It has no songs. However, it is very dramatic. A sound of gunfire is heard Ė so the Producer/Director was telling the truth after all! The Turks are attacking the town, Mr Pappas a third role for Andrew Bevis, rushes out, leaving Evangeline alone with the maid Feliza, a fourth totally different role for Gay Soper, this one speaks hardly any English, but nevertheless Gay makes the most of the character. After a fair bit more gunfire, Constantine returns, with a dress (which Evangeline doesnít like), they see buildings burning, he rushes out to try and save his goods (heís a businessman), and is killed. After a bit more gunfire, Kassim, a fourth role for Bob Sinfield enters, Evangeline persuades him to sell her rather than kill her.

 

Scene 3, Evangeline is board, stuck in a Harem in Turkey, where she is one of about 360 odd wives, watched over by Ali, the only person there who speaks English. During their discourse, she tells him about the one time she really was in love, when she had the measles, and promptly launches into perhaps the best known song from this forgotten shown, The Physician. I had always been concerned, were I to see a production of this show, as to whether I would enjoy the leading ladyís performance of this number. I had first heard the song (well minus the middle verse, and a few other small lyric changes) eleven years ago in the revue Noel/Cole: Letís Do It. Paul Batemanís interesting arrangement and Louise Goldís extraordinarily stunning rendition of it, thankfully recorded on that showís album, was going to be a very tough act to follow. I have heard Gertrude Lawrenceís recording of the song, and despite it including all the verses, I didnít feel it came up to scratch. Not after hearing what Ms Gold did with it. Thankfully Issy Van Randwyck is one of those few performers (like: Kim Criswell, and perhaps Louise Plowright) who seems to be able to make almost any song her own, no matter who has sung it before. On this occasion she certainly came up trumps. All the time she was on stage singing that song it belonged to her, and one would not think of anyone elseís version of that song while listening to hers), a clichť this may be, but she made it very much her own. What a relief.

Another wife is brought to the Harem, Haidee, a black American (we have to use our imagination here) played by Thelma Ruby. This was a much more interesting role for her. especially as she got to sing one of the other better known songs from this score, Solomon, complete with all the lyrics, no matter what they might be. I was rather interested to find this song was sung by Haidee, not least because in a radio interview with Ned Sherrin, Patricia Hodge once tried to claim it had been one of Evangelineís numbers!But The Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTM has discovered different. I was also rather amused by Haidee saying she was from Memphis Tennessee of all places (if only because this afternoonís pianist happens to be an honorary citizen of that city, actually it wasnít the only reason...).

An American sanitary engineer, Ben Winthrop, played by Joshua Dallas, enters, to rescue Haidee (because sheís American), but on discovering she is black, decides to rescue Evangeline (a white English girl) instead. One wonders if Romney Brent was actually trying to get in a bit of a dig against racism here?Either way, one has to remember that Ben is a character of his time.

Somewhere during a scene change, James Vaughan returns to the stage.

 

Scene Four finds Evangeline and Ben in the Arabian Desert at Sunset. Ben is quite determined not to get into any compromising situations with Evangeline, despite her pleas to go Back To Nature With You. Once again this duet, although written for the English market, does contain a lot of hints, perhaps bordering on Portereque double-entendre. Who knows. And again, why isnít it better known?

 

Scene 5, brings James Vaughan to the fore, as Andre, trying to direct a new revue; and not only having a few problems with his chorus, but also with Madeline his leading lady. One canít help wondering whether Romney Brent could have been parodying a real theatrical producer? Madeline sings Si Vous Aimez Les Poitrines. I was not exactly impressed by Rachel Stanleyís performance of the song. But it was entirely in keeping with her character, as a far from good leading lady in a revue. The chorus problems are solved by the arrival of Pither and his recently acquired wife, formerly Miss Pratt, with some chorus girls from a hostel they run. The various costume displays (its an around the world spectacular) are represented in sound, by Jason Carrís excellent piano playing. Evangeline enters. Andre is delighted, and immediately offers her a place in his show. She very nearly accepts, until he says it will be purely a business relationship and suggests she can stay at Pitherís hostel. She decides to return to Oxford.

The finale finds Evangeline home in Oxford. With Pither presenting her as evidence of his having won his bet. Everyone else goes indoors, Evangeline reprises Experiment The new gardener, Joe approaches, and symbolically offers Evangeline an apple, as they fall in love.

 

All in all well up to The Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTMís usual high standard. Their Cole Porter musicals nearly always seem to be among their best. Lost Musicals newcomers (and please note I mean new to the Discovering Lost Musicals shows Ė several of them are pretty well known on the West End stage): Selina Chilton, Joshua Dallas, Corinna Powlesland, Jennifer Reischel, and Gay Soper were all excellent, particularly Selina, and, Gay. They fitted in well with a company that included a return for several other recent additions to the troupe: Andrew Bevis, Sarah Crowden, Rachel Stanley, and, Bryan Torfeh; And there were some uniformly excellent, as one would expect performances from the old hands: Stewart Permitt, Thelma Ruby, Issy Van Randwyck, James Vaughan, and, Matt Zimmerman. Those three experienced comic actors: Stewart Permitt, Matt Zimmerman, and, James Vaughan all played their parts to their usual high standards, and in some cases, showed talents hitherto little used even in their previous Lost Musicals performances! As for Issy Van Randwyck, while it seemed a trifle amusing in a musical which toured around the world to have the ĎEnglish girlí heroine played by a Dutch Baroness! her acting was entirely convincing as a young English girl. Sometimes her accent veered towards an imitation of Gertrude Lawrence, but for the most part Issy played the character entirely her own way (which followed on nicely from Louise Goldís performance nine years ago, when she made another Gertie Lawrence role, Lady Kay Connaught in Oh Kay her own). Issyís strength, though, not only lay in her acting, but also in her singing. She made the songs totally her own, no matter whose recordings one happens to have heard of them; just the qualities I like to see in a Lost Musicals leading lady. Itís often one of the best things about these shows. Meanwhile British composer-lyricist Jason Carr did a fine professional job, as one would expect, as the pianist. The overture may have suffered a little from his lack of rehearsal time, but this was perfectly satisfactory, and overall his performance was to his high standards. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoons entertainment. Just as the Lost Musicals usually are.

 

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