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, and Maya Tether, playing Louise and Dainty June, it doesn’t have enough to support a decidedly under-rehearsed production. The talented pair play the pawns in their mother’s game of chess with the land of showbiz. As Rose (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 – her energy and fantastic voice could have resurrected a number of the more static scenes. In fact, I’d love to see what she 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 emotional, delivered with little movement. 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.
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. Other wins in this production include the injection of humour and energy via the strip tease artists (their performance of You Gotta Get A Gimmick certainly raised big laughs) and costume design, with 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 along with the curtain swiping actors and a misplaced set piece almost taking a trip across the stage. While set pieces were generous, it can’t be denied or ignored that there was a general sense of the production unwittingly paying homage to Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques. 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 and angrily took on everyone around her who tried to intervene…it was quite the experience.
Despite some thoroughly 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 unfortunately, they just don’t manage to pull it off.