Thursday 29th June, 2017 at the Grand Opera House, York.
While Pick Me Up Theatre’s Gypsy features some fine talent in Maren Fagerås Nævdal, playing Louise, and Maya Tether, playing Dainty June, it doesn’t have enough to support a fatally under-rehearsed production. The talented pair play the pawns in their mother’s game of chess with the land of showbiz. As Rose, played capably by Susannah Baines, desperately drags them from city to city, the vaudeville circuit dies and the bookings dry up, leaving Rose to make a surprising decision about her daughter’s career… Tether and Nævdal’s rendition of If Momma Was Married was the best thing about this entire production; vocally powerful, gorgeously harmonised and performed with rare emotion and sense of fun in a production which generally lacks the pizazz and character necessary to pull off such a towering production as Gypsy.
I was incredibly impressed with Tether and I would have liked to see much more of her; her energy and her fantastic voice could have resurrected a number of the more static scenes. In fact, I’d love to see what Tether could do in the leading role – with that voice and presence, she’d make a fantastic Rose. Likewise, Nævdal’s short but sweet solos are impressive – pure and beautiful, and her transformation into Gypsy Rose Lee later on is just about credible after such a well achieved innocence early on. Her stand-off with Rose is also the better of the acted scenes, with Nævdal’s explosive rejection of further control from her mother being a glimpse of the fire that should have been lit under the whole production. Also raising a smile in the first act is Alexa Chaplin, who plays Mr Goldstone’s bitingly abrasive secretary who isn’t afraid to let Rose know what’s what.
Although Baines handles the famous songs of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim with ease, I couldn’t shake the distinct impression that while the songs had been rehearsed sufficiently enough to work vocally, the actual direction of the scenes in terms of acting the songs was glaringly missing. Baines landed some of the best comic lines and moments beautifully but the direction (Robert Readman) often felt overly static, with whole songs, whether flirtatious, feisty or allegedly emotional, delivered with little movement (save token strutting or hip wiggling), or convincing feeling. In direct contrast, Nick Lewis captured Herbie’s empty hope and eventual disappointment well but wasn’t able to match Baines vocally. The child performers were great, particularly the inspired casting of Flossie Attwood as young Louise, bringing youthful comedy to the stalled early scenes, and Allyssia Hanley, playing Baby June with sweetly endearing visible anxiety. It must also be said that the second act picked up a little with the injection of humour and energy via the strip tease artists – their performance of You Gotta Get A Gimmick certainly raised audible laughs.
Styne’s music is brought to life gloriously by the highly entertaining Ben Papworth as Musical Director, and his orchestra of talented musicians. It was a real pleasure to listen to the overture for this production and Papworth found himself the object of unexpected praise from the audience who were enamoured of his enthusiastic direction. Costume was also a strength; Rose and young Louise’s dresses and the blanket coats being particularly memorable.
Perhaps the real flaw in this production is the apparent lack of rehearsal, particularly when it comes to technical cues. Despite this being the second night of the short run, there were missed cues throughout, with delayed set pieces, spots and mics; phone chimes that didn’t cut off in time on three separate occasions; issues with the curtain and a misplaced set piece which almost took a trip across the stage as the curtain swiped it. It can’t be denied or ignored that there was a general pervading sense of the production unwittingly playing homage to Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques. While set pieces were generous, they were often late or delayed scenes in the set changes – and the cardboard car scene was bordering on painful. The fact that the cues were such a prominent issue also had one key failing for the story; the shambolic performances by June and co lost all comedic impact because there wasn’t enough distinction between the quality of those performances and the surrounding production. I was on the brink of hysteria when life began to reflect art and an audience member’s phone began to ring…the hysteria almost taking hold when said audience member ANSWERED the call…it was quite the experience.
Despite some great performances, this production of Gypsy isn’t a hit with me. It is abundantly evident that this production is aiming high in terms of the scale of set and costumes, but they just don’t manage to pull it off. Had it been a small company piece on a smaller stage, in a smaller theatre, my opinion might be more favourable, but I was astounded to realise that I was watching a sub-standard amateurish production, at premium prices, in a theatre of such high status and reputation.