Phoenix Players’ Summertime Music Hall represented quite a few ‘firsts’: first time directing for Rose Stubbington; the first time the group have presented a show in August - a sadly neglected month in the Portsmouth theatre calendar; and the first time I’ve attended one of their shows as their NODA rep., although I have seen them perform many times in the past.
As the programme states, this was not a traditional music hall, but more of a gallop through the significant events of recent history (back to the start of the twentieth century) showing how people have responded through music and culture. As with traditional music hall, we were treated to a very eclectic mix of songs, dance, sketches, monologues, comedy and pathos. This was very much an ensemble piece that gave everyone in the company a chance to shine - including their budding writers, who produced what were, in my view, some of the best pieces in the show. The excellent quality programme, which was full of interesting information, listed those who took part on stage, but not the (many) roles they undertook – probably the right approach in a show of this kind, even if it does make my job more difficult! So, as it was difficult to attribute some items to people, I won’t name any names.
As well as introducing the pieces, the Chairmen, well, man and woman, provided much amusement along the way and many interesting and surprising facts. There were so many items I could comment on, I can only pick out a few that particularly stood out for me. In no particular order:
The World War One sequence based on real letters to and from home was well written, well presented and most moving. The two monologues (“Tillie the Twenties’ Soubrette”, and “A Naughty Little Poem”) and the “Networking” sketch were highly amusing and delivered with great aplomb. The Memory of 9/11, incorporating the cast’s own experiences of the event, was spellbinding and emotional. “Stand Up” (from Made in Dagenham) was well sung, and it was good to see this often overlooked but highly significant event being remembered. The dance “Electricity” from Billy Elliot was beautifully performed, with such graceful and fluid movements. The live guitar music was excellent – well played and sung. The Harry Potter Puppets sketch was a brilliant and inspired piece. “The Woman Who Swallowed a Fly”, which can be quite a tedious song, was lifted no end by the use of the pictures, and the antics of the chairman’s “helpers”.
The stage set throughout was sensibly minimal with props brought on as required, allowing rapid changes and keeping the pace of the show nice and fast. Lighting too was excellent. Costumes were generally good too and appropriate for the scenes. A slight negative was that some of the choreography could have been a little tighter. Also some of the pre-recorded music ended rather abruptly, leaving us wondering whether that was the end or not, and backing tracks can be very unforgiving if you lose your way.
Overall this was a hugely entertaining evening and my companion and I left talking enthusiastically about all the highlights. Well done to directors Kate and Rose for assembling such a great variety of pieces and well done to the cast for performing them so well. I hope that you had sufficient audience numbers to justify making a summer show a regular occurrence in Southsea.