Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A performance just lost for words

The Merry Widow

Tinkers Farm Opera

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


IT must have been a nerve-wracking first night, although the company did not show it. More particularly, leading lady Susan Bushby – not giving a hint of anxiety – and soprano Katie Leaver, sitting with the libretto and the score on the apron stage-left, were surely battling with butterflies. 

After all, Katie had only learned by telephone at 10.30 pm the previous night, when she was in bed, that Susan had lost her voice and that Katie – please, Katie! – was being asked to speak and sing the part of Anna while Susan would be doing some purposeful miming. 

Let it be said at once that they both acquitted themselves with distinction. Only once did I think I detected a bit of Susan's lip-work slightly out of synch. I am sure that if it had not been for the announcement before the show started, hardly anyone in the audience would have suspected a thing.

Susan showed professionalism and Katie is a professional. Together, they made an impressive team and it was good to see Susan leading the applause for Katie at the final curtain. 


It should also be said that it cannot have been easy for the rest of the company – particularly those who were required by the script to engage Anna, Madame Giavari, in conversation – when their every utterance was followed by a mimed reply of complete silence while the words arrived over their left shoulder. Frightening, or what? That they came through so convincingly is a tribute to everyone involved in Pam Harley's colourful production. 

That said, this alarming first night was not best served by its sound. Voices were intermittently elusive, even in the all-singing-all-dancing Women! Women! Women!, despite the obvious energy that eight singers were putting into them, backed by the orchestra under musical director Roy Lancaster. 

One voice was nevertheless reliably audible and therefore identifiably good, and it belonged to Diane Geater (Valencienne). Bob Atkins – a persuasive Danilo who, rather ironically in the light of the attendant problems, was required to shout, “Stop this frightful noise!” – also sang to good effect and was joined in You'll find me at Maxim's by six excellent Grisettes. 

Rex Wheeler (Baron Zeta), Ben Swift (Camille) and John Leaman (the amiable Njegus) made reliable contributions on a night when every shoulder had to be to the wheel, and Bob Clarke (St Brioche) and Peter Bushby (Cascada) made a pleasingly squabbling double act. The smaller parts and the chorus, meanwhile, backed the action to the hilt. 

I am sure it was a performance that no one involved will forget in a hurry. They can all take great satisfaction from the way they tackled it. To 13-11-10.  

John Slim 

See Opera has a silent witness

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