Barton and Biggles show Coulsdon their stiff upper lips

BELLA BARTOCK, our arts correspondent, has been let loose on the local AmDram scene for a second time in a week, and this time was blown away a little too literally

Dick Barton? Remember him?

Well, I do from the days of the BBC Light Service, when “the wireless” meant the radio, and had nothing to do with Wifi or such like. But even for me it is an especially dim and distant memory, and admitting as much might reveal my age, so I approached this latest production from the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, their annual outdoor jaunt at the Coulsdon Manor hotel, with some trepidation. Given the conditions on Friday night, I might have been better equipped with a thick rug, an umbrella and a hip flask.

Dick Barton and The Slaves of the Sultan – sub-titled “Girls! Guns! Spam!” – was a jolly enough jape, well-produced, with good lighting and costumes, and all performed in a force 9 gale.

With intent to be nostalgic about post-war Britain, celebrating stiff upper lips, pluck and determination, so the choice is an interesting statement on what is thought to appeal to a blue-rinse Coulsdon audience in 2017.

Even Biggles makes an appearance in the latest play at Coulsdon Manor: Steve North plays the WE Johns character, with Joe Wilson, left, as Dick Barton

Certainly, Friday night’s performance was a testament to the gutsy will-power of the mature audience to stick with it, under their coats, hats, mufflers and blankets, and of the company to make sure that the show must go on regardless. It was just like the Dunkirk spirit all over again.

The Theatre Workshop Coulsdon paid credit to the audience admitting that “it’s the first time we’ve performed in a hurricane” (and I don’t think they meant the WWII fighter plane), and adding a “thank you to our stalwart audience for staying put – that was true British pluck and determination in action – Barton would have been proud of you”.

The howling winds were particularly effective in carrying away some parts of the dialogue and songs, as the stage was under wildly fluttering leaves of trees between the 10th fairway and the golf course’s driving range.

Wagnerian music seemed especially apposite in combination with a fortuitous crescendo in accompanying storm laden rustling of the trees and the (fortunately) successful efforts by the box office staff to prevent their tent going airborne.

Rosa Ruggeri as Fatima Gash gave a hypnotic performance, with Luke Argles as Snowy White

The troupe must have needed a good drink back in the hotel’s 19th hole to cure their hoarseness after projecting through that storm for two hours from a stage that is, it is fair to say, rudimentary save for its revolving mechanism.

Mike Brown and Paul Ford as Major Fffoulkes and Sir Roderick respectively mastered the difficult environment and Dawn Ford was spot on as Felicity.

The stand-out performance came from Hannah Montgomery as the spirited Glaswegian Morag.

Steve North’s Biggles did not register singing as his foremost strength and some of Rosa Ruggeri’s exquisite commentaries as burlesque artist Fatima Gash were lost to the winds whilst the props fell about her.

Joe Wilson’s Dick Barton part-delighted with an appropriate cut-glass enunciation, and Bruce Montgomery as the BBC announcer certainly held things together in his narrator role.

From left: Hannah Montgomery as Morag, Dawn Ford as Felicity and Lucy-Ann Martin as Cicely

Steve Jacobs deserved an Oscar for his brief book ending appearances of studied malevolence as school chum Farns-Barnsworth.

The show itself, which is a pastiche of allegedly unreformed post-war British attitudes, will not be to everyone’s taste, with its references to “Johnny Foreigner” and patronising approach towards working people, women, people of colour and anyone who is not… well, English. References to gender pay gaps at the BBC did not seem to rescue the play in this respect.

Go along and see whether you disagree with that view. Dick Barton continues its run through to next weekend. The beautifully produced programme encourages budding critics to post their reviews of the show on the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon Facebook page. The review adjudged the best, and not necessarily the most flattering, will win two free tickets for the company’s Christmas fairy tale production The Snow Queen along with a bottle of festive wine. That’s more than the tight git in charge at Inside Croydon Towers ever offers me.

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