Cowardy Custard

 

Surrey Advertiser

 

Theo Spring

First performed in 1972 with a title devised by the Maestro himself, this compilation of his songs, poems, writings and memoirs is a demanding show for any amateur company to attempt, requiring, as it does, excellent vocalists, good raconteurs and actors able to perform in the Coward mode.

Wallington Operatic had worked hard to master all of these requirements and used the space in the Charles Cryer Theatre with great success.

Under the direction, and participation, of Will Harris, the programme flowed without a hitch, even when some very quick changes were required.

WODS are fortunate in being able to field a large cast amongst whom are some excellent young vocalists. Jacky Cook, Nicola Symon, Cara Lallement and Katie Leitch all contributed well with Jacky's Try To Learn To Love and In My Balloon particularly noteworthy and Nicola adding her acting skills in the typical Coward piece Shadow Play.

Cowardy Custard includes a sprinkling of Coward's most well-known songs. Outstanding were Barbara Windsor's I've Been To A Marvellous Party where she made the very best of her comic ability and the octet who presented Mad About The Boy in different guises. I particularly liked the school girl's version, but they were all good. Celena Bain was one of these and I note her contribution of solos for the company has improved noticeably over the years - a lovely voice.

The gentlemen of the company did particularly well with The Stately Homes Of England and The Passenger's Always Right and the duologue between Will Harris and Ian Akhurst in I Wonder What Happened To Him brought more comedy.

The decision not to try and imitate Coward's clipped tones was a wise one and those who read from his memoirs used their own voices to effect.

Costumes were elegant and numerous with the Costers in London Pride deserving particular praise for all those buttons.

In a show with so many numbers it is impossible to mention everyone but suffice it to say the show was a real team effort giving both the well and lesser-known works of Sir Noel Coward a well-deserved airing.

The small band provided fitting accompaniment with MD Robert Randall on keyboards and taking part, delivering Coward's memories of his visit to New York in 1926.

4 stars

 

NODA

 

Jeff Raggett  - Region 5

'Cowardy Custard' was triumphant at the Mermaid Theatre, London in 1972 and ran for a year. Much of its success was due to the producer Wendy Toye. Wendy had the added the experience of working with Coward himself. She compiled a dazzling cast for the show including; Geoffrey Burridge, Tudor Davies, Elaine Delmar, Peter Gale, Patricia Routledge, Anna Sharkey, Una Stubbs and Derek Waring. This company revealed the Master at his witty, bitchy and sentimental best. Cowardy Custard is wonderful to perform in and directed and as a devote of Coward I have done both I have also had the thrilling experience of twice being directed by Miss Toye.  

WODS presented a stylish production at the Charles Cryer with a large ensemble. Unfortunately, first night did show cracks with many cast members not knowing words throughout. This was a shame that first night nerves challenged some, this because WODS have very good standards and performers. I would have like to seen some of the younger members of the company being given more to do, especially some of the "bright young things" material would have been more effective with your very able younger company.

With such a large cast and array of material too many to mention I will pick out a few key numbers.

  • Trooper Barbara Windsor stole the show with both the Spinning Song and Marvellous party.

  • Celena Bain, the vocal sensation of the evening with a very moving, Come the wild wild weather and 20th Century Blues.

  • Jacky Cook did fizz  in "Would you like to stick a pin in my Balloon" and again delivered all her material with panache.

All three ladies know how to work the audience take a number and own it. Well done.

I was very impressed with the boys especially with Coward standards like, The Stately Homes of England, I wonder what happened to him, Mrs Wothington and also Poor little rich girl was delivered with masterly style.

The London Pride Medley was the best section of the evening. This was fast and fun as Coward should be delivered.  As ever WODS costumes matched the period and style of the production with the London Pride Costers section setting just the right flavour.

Robert Randall MD had a very tight band which kept the show alive and I loved the fact that the band was very much a part of the production. Stuart Caswell's lighting added to the cafe style and was most effective. Concerts and revues need to be fast and stylish and use of a choreographer would have assisted director Will Harris to dress the stage visually and enable the company to move with confidence. Coward is difficult and to direct and perform especially when doing both things together.

All said this was a show with a lot of ensemble material, most of which was well presented. But your audience do come to listen and not knowing words is not respecting your audience. I am glad to learn that you will be returning to Charles Cryer you will benefit from the possibilities.

If I can be of any assistance in the future please let me know.