Performed by Epsom Players on 27 October 2011 at Epsom Playhouse in Epsom
Read the original review here
Back in 1911, Epsom Players hit the stage for the first time with a production of The Mountaineers. Now in their centenary year, and a few hundred shows later, they took to the Epsom Playhouse with their version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Oklahoma! And it must be said, I’m not sure you would find many differences between this and a professional production.
Stepping into the Epsom Playhouse for the first time, I had no idea what to expect: I’ve never seen the film version, I wasn’t sure if I would know any of the songs, and I’d have had more luck finding a needle in a haystack than being able to guess at what the story might be! But as soon as the opening bars of ‘Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’’ rang out, I suspected I might be in for a treat.
Just after the turn of the century, the old Indian Territory became Oklahoma. The people of this new state, as this musical would lead you to believe, quickly formed a community and all the pleasures and struggles that come with it. The biggest concern for Curly, however, was whether he should confess his true feelings to Laurey and ask her to the barn dance, or take love rival Gertie instead. He chose the latter, leaving poor Laurie with farmhand Jud Fry and his fascination of naked women.
Chris Goldhawk as Curly proved dashing and able to hold his own in the leading role. A strong actor and singer, his performance never dipped. He had fantastic chemistry with Emma Goldhawk, who was equally strong as Laurey and more than a match for him. Whether they were bickering with or confessing their true feelings to one another, the Goldhawks’ scenes together sparkled. Adding to the glitter was Gail MacLellan as Aunt Eller, the lynchpin of the community and of the story too. MacLellan was a pleasure to watch and came close to outshining our leads.
That honour, however, belonged to two other actors. James Turnbull stole the show as creepy loner Jud Fry, a perfect blend of a menacing, deviant simpleton. Never quite sure of what he was going to do next, and with a fascination of guns, Turnbull kept the audience guessing even when not on stage. Sadly, the character was dealt a massive disservice by being very hastily killed in the show’s dying moments, with very little mourning from the remaining characters. With the ever present threat of guns throughout the show, it seemed illogical to have Jud’s demise at the blade of a knife. This is no fault of Turnbull’s, however.
The other show-stealer was Olly Reeves as Persian dealer Ali Hakim. Reeves has a gift for comic timing and his rotund presence was a joy to behold on every occasion. His constant avoidance of marriage was brilliantly portrayed and I loved his attempts at selling a myriad of items from his saddlebag. Despite not being a singer or dancer, Reeves pulled off ‘It’s A Scandal, It’s An Outrage’ very admirably – and the audience lapped it up!
A special mention must go to the choreography of Claire Izzard – her imaginative staging was a pleasure to watch unfold and I particularly enjoyed the Dream Ballet which allowed the dancers to really showcase their talents. As with most amateur productions, it was clear that some dancers were more gifted than others but Izzard utilised everyone’s individual strengths to their own advantage.
Mike Turnbull worked wonders as Musical Director. The highlight of the entire evening for me was the beautiful harmonies of Emma Jones, Melanie Dunn and Lucy Thackray – every time they stopped singing I hoped that it wasn’t for too long. The ensemble cast sang with gusto and although there may have been the occasional flat note, they more than made up for it in gusto.
Oklahoma! was an incredibly polished and nearly faultless production, one which certainly gave a few West End theatres a run for their money. It was clear that a lot of time and effort had gone into the show – the unbeatable set down to the beautiful costumes through to the incredibly effective lighting. The only letdown was the unimaginative story – it didn’t really have much to say for itself, but who am I to criticise the great Rodgers and Hammerstein?!
As a little encore: it was heart-warming to read the profile of Bill Rackhom who, at the age of 87, was treading the boards for the first time in 50 years. He joined Epsom Players in 1949 where he met his wife Jean. In 1961, they performed together for the last time in Oklahoma!. Sadly, Jean passed away earlier this year and Bill joined the ensemble in tribute to his beloved wife.