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It's A Funny Thing... just how good this is!



Review by David Munro

ALL OVER Britain, amdram societies are putting on shows throughout the year - some good, some bad, some plain indifferent.

One of the best of these societies, if not the best, is Swanbank Music, a company which performs in south London for charitable purposes and with a consistent record of high quality productions.

This year's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum at the Putney Arts Theatre is no exception.

A Funny thing ……….. is a piece of cod Roman farce whipped up by two Americans, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart.

Its main claim to fame, however, is that it is ornamented by Stephen Sondheim's first complete score, and a bright jolly score it is.

The evening is concerned with the attempt by a Roman slave, Pseudolus, to obtain his freedom, which results in sexual and marital misunderstandings galore, all punctuated with witty and amusing numbers.

As will be obvious, the success or otherwise of the evening depends on the Pseudolus and in Jonny Clines, Swanbank have a comic actor who measures up and perhaps surpasses the other more famous players of the role, including Phil Silvers and Frankie Howerd.

Throughout the two or so hours of the performance he maintains a cascade of bon mots, comic asides, funny dances and excellent delivery of the point numbers which washes away all criticism and forces the audience to sit back and enjoy the evening.

He is well supported by a trio of lecherous old men, played by Jonathan Monckton, Eddie Stephens and Joe Putnam who chase the girls and get embroiled in the shenanigans of the plot with gusto.

As the lovers of the piece, Hero and Philia, Mark Burgess and Charlotte Scott-Hayes look the parts and sing prettily.

Pseudolus's sidekick, Hysterium, was amusingly and vigorous played by Stephen Field, who scurried and squeaked his way through the evening and plot like some demented but talented mouse.

The posse of pulchritudinous puellas (the bevy of beauty for those not up in their vaudeville Latin) were stunningly portrayed by Emma Stephens, Sophie Balderstone, Tracy Lynch, Nicola Savage, Michelle Loader and Jesse Rose.

They looked gorgeous and portrayed, - and I hope they will not take this amiss - ladies of easy virtue decoratively and to the life.

Part of the plot hinges on the assumption that Philia, the heroine, has been sold to a soldier as a piece of military baggage and the attempts by Pseudolus and his cohorts to prevent this.

Mick Pardoe plays and sings the soldier, Miles Gloriosus, with just the right braggadocio and panache to redeem the character and turn what could be a boring part into an amusing and virile one.

As Domina, the obligatory older woman with an errant husband, Billie Stephens looked far too lovely ever to have alienated her husband's affection; added to which she has a stunning voice, which made her rendition of the betrayed wife's blues a high spot of the evening.

David MacCallum, Price Guy Brew, Felicity Sainsbury, Jenkin Thomas and Eric Walsh had the thankless task of portraying citizens and other characters as called upon by the plot and did so with good humour and brio.

The whole evening was under the direction and control of John Hebden, who successfully ornamented the plot with several inspired pieces of business and ensured that cast's high spirits were properly disciplined.

This production of A Funny Thing….. is, to put it bluntly, a joy and one of the funniest and most enjoyable evenings around.

It knocks several professional productions I have had the misfortune to sit through recently right off the stage - and it is all for charity.

Make the effort and the trip to Putney, and catch this very funny and well-performed piece before it closes at the end of the week. You won't regret it I can promise you

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Directed by. John Hebden, Musical Director James Gutteridge. WITH: Jonny Clines (Prologus), Eddie Stephens (Senex), Billie Stephens (Domina), Mark Burgess (Hero), Stephen Field (Hysterium), Jonny Clines (Pseudolus), Jonathan Monckton (Erronius), Mick Pardoe (Miles Gloriosus), Joe Putnam (Marcus Lycus), Emma Stephens (Tintinabula), Sophie Balderstone (Panacea), Tracy Lynch & Nicola Savage (The Gemini), Michelle Loader (Vibrata), Jesse Rose (Gymnasia), Charlotte Scott-Hayes (Philia), David MacCallum-Price, Tracy Lynch, Nicola Savage (The Proteans), Guy Brew, Felicity Sainsbury, Jenkin Thomas, Eric Walsh (Company). Produced by Swanbank Music and Neil Rutherford at Putney Arts Theatre, Ravenna Road, Putney London, SW15.

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