Shooting Star Gala

Sunday 16 May 2004, Richmond Theatre


Review by Emma Shane

© May 2004


When I first heard about this gala I thought it might be worth seeing, little did I know until I got to Richmond Theatre and bought the programme just how worth seeing it was going to be. What an array of sometimes quite unexpected talent!


The evening kicked off with a contingent from Anything Goes (Annette McLaughlin with: Duncan McVicar, Matthew Malthouse, Joseph Pitcher, Corey Skaggs, Phil Snowden & Andrew Wright) performing Buddy Beware. Bearing in mind that this is one of those songs, like I Got Rhythm, which I almost never see or hear performed quite the way I’d really like to see it done, it was actually rather enjoyable; and certainly more than suitable to get this gala off to a good start. The song was originally written to be whacked over the footlights like a baseball coach belting a fly, in front of the drapes during a set change. But as it’s very rare to find a singer who would be really capable of putting it across like that (I’ve only come across two who I think would be up to the task), it’s probably just as well to try and find another way to get the song’s strength across, by turning it into a dance production number. The same thing often happens to I Got Rhythm. So by and large this was a pretty adequate performance. Although she understudies the role of Reno in the show, Annette McLaughlin’s not exactly Ethel Merman, but who is? Anyway she did a pleasing job with the song, and I particularly liked the line about “I just love a man in uniform, I love him even better out of uniform” (which made me think of Ann Miller’s film performances), I wonder where the line originated?


Next up, in front of the drapes, Tony Robinson, reading from Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole. This was an enjoyable interlude, mainly because Tony Robinson is pretty charismatic.


This was followed by students from The Royal Ballet School at White Lodge, performing The Garland Dance. They did Tchaikovsky in a gala at Richmond Theatre two years ago. Only this time it was better, because, rather than struggling with a jazz band whose efforts at playing Tchaikovsky were somewhat limited, they used pre-recorded music. The students incidentally were: Harriet Bass, Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Guy Burden, Ben Crawford, Russell Ducker, Anna Forbes, Bethany Kingsley-Garner, Joanne Klijn, Karis Lynch-Park, Daniel Mulligan, Hannah Rudd, and Claire Tilly.


Now in front of the drapes we had Richard Briers, attempting to be a comic actor, while interesting if you happen to be studying acting, especially when he explained about the way comic actors have certain voices they have to use, and while he told an amusing joke about a piano playing cat, it wasn’t as memorable as some of the other moments in this gala.


Time for another song or two. The curtain rises to find various performers seated. Two grand pianos are at the back stage left of the stage (a spot I remember about nine years ago being occupied by a certain Merman-belter in a revue). Seated at the one furthest to the stage left is Chris Walker, with Nick Bosworth occupying the other one. Stage left front are two chairs on which are seated Denise Leigh, and another woman, I’m not sure who she was, or why she was there. Seated on a stool in the centre of the stage is Alexander Hanson, and standing in front of him Trumpet player Guy Barker. At the back of the stage, to the stage right are seated Rufus Sewell, Jessica Martin, and Philip Franks. While in front of them, at a table are Roger McGough (furthest stage right), and (a figure familiar to many of us who grew up watching Children’s TV in the 1980’s) Sarah Greene. This scene started with Alexander, accompanied by Chris, singing It Was A Very Good Year. This included the odd interlude from Guy, with Sarah looking round as if a part of the song. Although Alexander sang well (he is a fine singer-actor), I felt there was something not quite right about it, was it too slow for the gala? Or his voice? I’d love to hear him sing Kurt Weill. Next we had Guy doing a solo on his trumpet, accompanied by both Chris and Nick. This was followed by Denise singing Summertime, with Nick as accompanist. Again though quite well performed, I felt it didn’t seem to fit. Maybe these songs need to be given something extra, like a context. The scene improved with Roger McGough getting up to take his turn, reading some of his poems. I usually like spoken poetry best when its read by the poets who actually wrote it, perhaps partly because the understand it better than anyone else, and so know instinctively what feelings to inject into their performance, at least if they are any good at performance poetry they do, and Roger evidently is good at the performance element. Next is was Sarah’s turn, a few words on the subject of theatre (rather appropriate given her origins), as she introduced an Alan Bennet Scene (not in the programme) acted out by Rufus Swell, Philip Franks and Jessica Martin. This was very enjoyable, it was funny with an amount of double entendre, but best of all is Jessica Martin’s ability to get totally into whatever role she is playing, and do it seriously, no matter how silly a part.


In front of the drapes it was time for the Lucky Programme Draw, carried out by Jane Asher, Tony Hawks and The Company, the latter turned out to be Tony Robinson.


This was followed not by Andrew Dawson (as it said in the programme), but Prunella Scales and Timothy West reading, or rather performing, an extract from Peter Pan. It was quite something to see Timothy being Peter Pan and Prunella Scales as Wendy, yet so good is their acting one did manage to suspend any disbelief one might have at these two mature actors, and enter into the spirit of accepting them as these two young characters.


Now in a spotlight in front of the drapes we got Andrew Dawson. I was very impressed by his performance with his hands. There is quite an art to performers who really know how to perform things through their hands, its not easy, and to see someone who can do that sort of thing well is a moment that should be treasured.


Act 1 ended with another song, Starlight, performed by members of The Chicken Shed Theatre Company, namely; Lucy Abrahams, Arun Blair Mangat, Omar Blair Mangat, Oriana Ballinson, Joshua Brennan, James Bullmore, Sophie Cordell, Ella Cove, Lucy Curtis, Conor Glasman, Jamie Griffin, Pearl Hamilton, Jacob Meyers-Belkin, Francesca Rees Williams, Millie Robinson, Stephanie Stone, Paris Williams, Tilly Zarza and accompaniment from Liz Kitchen. Presumably the latter was on the piano, there was also a woman playing a xylophone. This was an impressive little number performed by a wide range of talent. Proof that when it comes to performing talent one really shouldn’t be narrow minded.


Act 2 opened with an excerpt from The Hot Mikado, the Act 1 finale of that show, performed by students from the Arts Educational School Of Musical Theatre, including: Davinder Heyre, Nicholas Pinto Sander, Amy Pemberton, Leia Benharz, Adam Hills, Wayne Fitzsimmons, Daniel Oliver, Bente Bjerkan, Katie Duncan, Catherine Le Brun, Catrin Livsey, Melissa Matthews, Zoe Rainey, Stuart Armfield, Marcus Ashley, Chris Gardner, and, Scott Monello. I found I did not care much for the music of this number, and it didn’t do much to show off the vocals of the performers, with the notable exception of Cilla McKenzie who seemed to know just how to use her voice to best effect with these pop arrangements of Arthur Sullivan’s music - so if pop-group back catalogue musicals are still the rage she’ll probably do well in one of them. For stage presonce, I have to single out Jess Parker, from the moment she walked on stage we knew just by the way she walked that she must The Principal Contralto, Katisha. However, the best thing about this piece was the quality of the dancing. To me this was not entirely unexpected. In recent years, watching such West End shows as: Follies, On Your Toes, and, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I’ve noticed that many of the best jazz and tap dancing in those shows has been by actors who trained at Arts Educational (sometimes many years apart), tonight it is evident that high standard is being maintained.


In front of the drapes a second poetical interlude from Roger McGough. This started with an ironical poem about cars, went on to a poem about taking his daughter to the pantomime; and finished up with a lovely poem about the peculiar ideas children get into their heads ‘I am your father and this is the way things are’. This is one poem that really should be taught in junior schools, as its one everyone can identify with.


Next up in the centre of the stage, Sydney White stands at a microphone to sing Shooting Star. I was a little disappointed she was only accompanied by Chris Walker on the piano (in the programme Jason Carr was down to accompany too). However, she sang very well, and I’d never have guessed that she is only twelve years old. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of her in the future. Sydney and Chris exited, and Sir Trevor McDonald OBE walked on to, as he put it, deliver a commercial break, which was basically a serious interlude explaining what this gala is in aid of, to raise funds to build and maintain a children’s hospice, because there just isn’t one to serve this area (West London and North Surrey), and then he introduced Derek Miers who gave a personal account of why this is needed.  Time for some more music, Chris Walker returned to take his place at the piano in the stage left corner, and this time, joined by Jason Carr taking his place at the other one, where the audience incidentally had a much better view; and Sharon D Clarke took her place at the microphone to sing Don’t Quit. It’s a number she recorded on the Defiant Dames album (only there her sole accompanist was Clement Ishmael - though Jason does play on someone else’s track on that album). Anyway, tonight Sharon sang well and powerfully, but actually I found myself paying rather more visual attention to her two accompanists, who when they built up to the final verse seemed most enthusiastic. Chris’s fringe was tossing about, and Jason has a rather distinctive way of tossing his hands (especially his left) whenever he removes them from the keyboard with a flourish.


This was followed, in front of the drapes, by what was described (by Prunella Scales) as “An unscripted interlude”, which turned out to be Prunella and Timothy reading out a very funny version of the Snow White story, involving the dwarves being ex jockey’s who gambled. After this we had one of the best comedy performances of the evening, Tony Hawks. He wasn’t sure whether to introduce himself as Tony Hawks or Roger Daltry. I particularly enjoyed his denunciation of common sayings, and describing how when you are looking for something there is always someone else trying to help you who is less enthusiastic than you are, and who says “Well it must be somewhere” (I found myself reminded at this point of one of Gary Yershon’s lines from Jason Carr’s musical The Water Babies “He may be somewhere. But this is nowhere.”). Anyway Mr Hawkes concluded his performance by having trouble finding his way off stage.  He wasn’t the last.


Next up, Brian Makiwane and Alexia Facey performed Can You Feel The Love Tonight from The Lion King, resplendent in their Lion King headdresses. This was very enjoyable, though I would have liked to know the context.


In front of the drapes it was time for the Raffle Draw. But first we had Sean Foley and Hamish McColl doing what can only be described as an imitation of Morecambe & Wise, with Andrew Marr as their guest. This wasn’t bad, and fortunately (as they are not Eric and Ernie) they kept things reasonably brief. They also managed to carry out the raffle draw quite swiftly, so that it did not become a long drawn out affair, full of bad jokes. In fact this act was characteristic of the evening. By and large the timing and positioning of the acts was very good. The proceedings rarely became boring or stale; they kept it moving and balanced.


Talking of a balanced production, they saved the best till last. Once the Raffle Draw trio had actually found their way off stage, we had the acting high spot of the evening the final scene from The Importance Of Being Ernest. This was introduced and narrated by Jessica Martin. An excellent choice of performer for this task, as you can put her on stage with almost any actor (no matter how much stage presonce they’ve got) and Jessica won’t be overshadowed. Then a little surprise in that it was acted surprisingly well as a piece of cross-dressing, with: Jane Asher as Algernon, Samantha Bond as Jack, Philip Franks as Lady Bracknell, Sarah Greene as The Reverend, Alexander Hanson as Cicely, Tony Robinson as Gwendoline, and, Rufus Sewell as Miss Prisim. One of the wonderful things about this piece, was that the three performers known for the television presenting work are just as good at acting as those known for their acting, in fact all three are themselves trained actors. Jane Asher was particularly good as Algenon, and got some fine back up from Samantha Bond as Jack. Philip Franks made an excellent job of playing Lady Bracknell. He is a fine actor (I noticed how good he was when I saw him play Lloyd in Noises Off). I felt Rufus Sewell’s performance as Miss Prism and Alexander Hanson’s performance as Cicely were alright (although I couldn’t forget seeing Deborah Wiley and Sarah Mercier’s memorable performances in those roles a few years ago). It was fun to see Tony Robinson acting a role live on stage, which he made a good job of, as one might expect. I felt that Sarah Greene was a little wasted in the role of the Reverend. I get the impression that because she’s known as a television presenter, people don’t realise how good an actress she is. She played her part effectively, but didn’t have enough of a part to really get her teeth into it.


In front of the drapes Tony Robinson remarked on what a nice change it was for him to be working with actors again, instead of archaeology, but that there wasn’t a lot of difference. (Funnily enough, although he may not be aware of it, another of his colleagues in that scene has presented a certain amount of archaeology on television, well over twenty years ago; Sarah Greene presented some wonderful items about The Mary Rose). On with the show Mr Robinson introduced the finale, by explaining the origin of the next song, we would be hearing, Springtime which was written by an unknown Jewish woman in Vilna ghetto in WW2. Then he too had trouble finding his way off stage, and finished up lifting one of the curtains to scramble under it.


The curtain rose with Maria Friedman at the microphone. Chris Walker was in his customary corner at the piano. At the other piano stool was positioned a surprise, Jason Carr armed with an accordion. I didn’t know that my favourite contemporary songwriter’s talents include playing the accordion! Maria sings powerfully, and as she sings she twists her supple body as it follows the song, making her performance even more effective, and emotional. To sing Springtime, with an English translation by Jeremy Sams, Maria employs with a good guttural voice, making it sound as though English were not her first language. She sings the song with such passion that you sense she really means it, feeling it rather than merely acting it. Her second number is a much better known song, though also a big emotional number, Somewhere from West Side Story. For this number Jason put down the accordion, and took his seat at the piano. I found my eyes kept flitting between our three performers, who all deserve to be noticed. Maria is terrific at dramatic numbers, when she sings she really acts what she sings, but she was also so well accompanied by two fine pianists. It was just as well that this tour de force was the finale, because it would have been pretty difficult for anything to follow that.


All in all a pretty incredible evening in aid of a worthy cause. I am very glad that I went along to see it (even if I did sit in the Upper Circle). It was one of the better Gala’s I’ve witnessed. Both in terms of the quality of the individual performances, and in the timing, nothing really lasted too long, and the whole affair was by and large pretty slick. But above all what a display of talent to have in one local theatre.




Off Site Links:

The Shooting Star Trust’s Official website:


Review of the Side By Side By Sondheim 30th Anniversary Gala (also in aid of The Shooting Star Trust):






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