The ProducersA Musical written by Mel Brooks and directed by Matthew Kerslake
A production by The Watlington Players
Matthew Kerslake has waited a long time for the chance to direct The Producers. This wait was certainly worthwhile!
The plot revolves around Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer, who enlists the help of his cowardly former accountant, Leo Bloom, to pull off the scam of the century. Realising that they can make more money from a flop than a hit, our two hapless heroes set out to find and stage the worst musical ever. The result? Spring Time for Hitler, a musical homage to the Fuhrer, written by a former-Nazi pigeon-fancier and directed by a man camper than the entire Glastonbury Festival.
An outrageous romp such as this has the potential for disaster, and comedy of this type requires careful casting in order to succeed. Thankfully, the Watlington Players rose magnificently to the occasion! Max Bialystock was brought to life by Richard Abel, who inhabited the role with his characteristic enthusiasm. He delivered a barrage of one-liners with an excellent sense of comic timing and surprised the audience with the strength of his singing voice, which will no doubt be utilised further in future Players productions.
Opposite Abel, the role of Leo Bloom might have paled into insignificance, but Tom Watson really threw himself into character, and his cowardly snivelling had us all in fits of laughter at regular intervals. Watson's competence in a lead role has really been proved here; his singing was excellent and his tap dancing was beguiling. Watch out Watlington, Watson is a triple threat!
In the role of Ulla, the Swedish actress, Fiona Haylock shone. In previous productions, it is Haylock's dancing skills that have been given prominence, but in this role she was given the opportunity to showcase her full range and has shown that she is a talented player in her own right. Her dancing was impeccable and the on stage chemistry she had with Watson sizzled throughout the piece. Haylock's comedy accent never wavered and her Swedish twang remained firmly in place, even after over ninety minutes of song and dance. Her singing voice was wonderful and she filled the role of leading lady with grace and aplomb.
As always, Matthew Austin excelled in a role that felt as though it was created exclusively for him. Saying this about a character who is a homicidal, Nazi-sympathising, bird-loving maniac may not seem like a compliment, but Austin embodied the German war criminal with an ardent physicality that showcased his dramatic skills to their fullest. It takes a confident actor not to upstaged by singing pigeons, but Austin retained full command of the stage. The mad glint in his eye made him both ridiculously comic and slightly unnerving. It's a fine line to tread, and one that Austin skipped along with gay abandon.
Speaking of which, David Brammer and James Golder were fantastic as director Roger DeBris and his theatrical companion Carmen. The chemistry between these two was electric and the over-the-top eccentricities were played with an affection that was both endearing and hilarious. The number 'Keep it Gay' evoked the loudest laughs from an appreciative audience and the performances from both Brammer and Golder were a joy to behold. Golder, especially, was able to put his expressive body language to good use, eliciting knowing chuckles from the crowd with a single raised eyebrow or flick of his hips.
The jokes came thick and fast all evening and were timed to perfection, with excellent direction from Matthew Kerslake. Every member of the large ensemble cast was on top form, and many chorus members fulfilled several roles, so that the show really felt as though it had a cast of thousands. One slight drawback though, was that the space sometimes felt crowded. However, this was more to do with the technical setting rather than the play itself. Kerslake's production would certainly have benefited from a larger stage.
The set was well-designed and scene changes were executed discreetly by an excellent team of stage hands. The music was well-paced and lively and the costumes were breath-taking in their construction. The show girl with a German sausage mounted on her head dress was a personal favourite of mine. On occasion, some of the singing was a little muffled, but overall the projection was great and Mel Brooks' fantastic material was brought to life with relish and wit by a cast of top class performers.
Congratulations to all those involved for a wonderful production!