‘Radio Days’, Wellington Operatic Society’s autumn show at The Arts Centre in Eight Acre Lane, invites audiences to share a rich evening of entertainment this week and, with so many musical numbers included that are likely to have featured in significant moments of their own or their family’s lives, some will surely be tempted to join in.
Rebecca Beard has devised an admirably ambitious, wide-ranging foray into the archives of radio broadcasting from 1920’s right through to Radio Ga Ga in 1984. Songs – nearly 50 of them from across 60 years – and extracts from classic radio shows such as The Goons, Dick Barton and The Archers correspond with key historical events around the world. Visual reminders are presented in projected archive photographs and, by placing a family which grows and ages onstage, Rebecca illustrates how radio brought world events right into homes and to successive generations before the advent of TV and mass media.
The large cast maintains a vigorous energy throughout the evening led by 16 year old Ashleigh Payne who is responsible for choreography. His youthful talent and verve is the visual driving force of stylish ensemble numbers involving the whole company. He has an able group of fellow performers willing to follow his impressive and versatile lead, matching his very obvious ability, and if there are one or two who have less confidence in performance, maybe an audience will encourage them to shed their inhibitions. Ashleigh has been performing with various Wellington Arts Association groups for 4 years and offers a fine illustration of the stage training he has received during that time.
OpSoc’s shows draw on a range of rich voices to deliver individual numbers, again all sung beautifully across the programme without exception; spoken sections give a taste of the humour of some of the greatest radio shows. If matching the verbal panache and expert timing of, say, Secombe, Sellars, Milligan and Bentine is quite an ask, each reminder of a bygone age’s zany and ground-breaking humour is enough to delight.
In an extensive programme, there are individual numbers that stand out: ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ is excellent – fast, crisp and exuberant – and the poignancy of songs from WW2 is matched visually with a soldier’s poignant leave-taking of his family and a scene where wartime lovers are reunited. There are some delightful moments of irony too, when the Director sets photos from the 1926 General Strike and the rise of the Communist Party to accompany ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, later when ‘Pennies from Heaven’ is juxtaposed with images of victims of the Wall Street crash and ‘Stormy Weather’ is delivered alongside images of Oswald Mosley and his British Fascists in the 1930s.
Rebecca Beard’s direction throughout is essentially brisk as it has to be to pack in so much detail and her very able, supportive backstage crew keeps a complex task moving smoothly. It is not easy to make images, sound, lighting and cast work together and with so few stumbles. Visually, Matt Redstone’s lighting is often stunning and always varied, adding significantly to the dramatic effectiveness of the whole show. If there are times when members of the cast are less assured and rehearsed and where extra stage business could have been added, they detract only marginally from the overall effect.
The costume team deserve a curtain call of their own (as is often the case with WAA shows). To dress a large cast in appropriate costumes which take account of 60 years of changing fashions from 1920’s flapperdress through to 1980s hippywear is a mammoth undertaking but one which Nancy Powell-Brace, Penny Bradnum, Monica Spalding and Margaret Liddel manage, apparently effortlessly.
‘Radio Days’ is, above all, a great evening’s entertainment. With a programme filled with some of the best and most memorable songs from 20th century (‘Lullaby of Broadway’, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, ‘Walking Back to Happiness’, ‘Shout’ etc etc), audiences will leave having been taken back once again to great music and moments which have punctuated their own lives. As Mary Hopkin said ‘Those were the Days’.
Performances: Tuesday 10 to Saturday 14 November at 7.30pm and on Saturday 14 November at 2.30. Tickets from Nurtured by Nature, South Street, Wellington.