Watermill - Radio Times
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Watermill - Radio Times

4th August to 24th September 2011.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Productions with actors singing and playing musical instruments have become a Watermill trademark, and they’ve served up some excellent musicals over the years. Sadly, Radio Times isn’t one of them.

Set in the BBC in London during the Blitz, it covers the production and broadcast of one radio variety show and the lives and loves of some of the cast and crew. At the centre are Sammy Shaw, the star of the show (by Gary Wilmot, as a sort of Max Miller cheeky chappie), and Olive, his on-off fiancée (a strong performance from Anna-Jane Casey). Sammy has been taking Olive for granted when her old flame Gary Strong (Darren Bennett), now a Hollywood star, turns up again.

Add to the mix the show’s producer Heathcliffe Bultitude (Andrew C Wadsworth, very funny), trying to toe the BBC line and keep the censors happy, plus the shy sound man (Christian Edwards) hoping to get it on with singer Amy (Vivien Carter) and an excellent performance from Julian Littman as Shaw’s sharp-tongued sidekick Wilfred Davies.

The songs are by Noel Gay, famous for many songs in the ’30s including Run Rabbit Run, Leaning on a Lamppost, The Sun Has Got His Hat On (which would have got past the censor with no problems in those days, but uncensored would be taboo nowadays) and The Lambeth Walk as well as the musical Me and My Girl.

There were some really rousing numbers, particularly Hey Little Hen and Run Rabbit Run with clever choreography. So what’s not to like? Nothing, judging by the reaction of most of the full-house audience at the Watermill. But for me, the succession of corny jokes and tired innuendos were tedious rather than funny, and the plot was thin. Replace two and a quarter hours of this with an hour of Noel Gay’s songs plus music and dancing and I’d have been happy.

PAUL SHAVE

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Whipping up that wartime spirit

The Watermill's Radio Times sparkles with Noel Gay's music

Radio Times, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until September 24

If you've enjoyed The Watermill's Craig Revel Horwood musicals in recent years, a slight question mark may linger in your mind over this year's less well-known musical production.

Forget it.

The smile which lights your face from the opening Turn on the Music, to the final note, will only falter when the events of war impinge, for Radio Times is set in the Criterion Theatre in 1941 and the Blitz is causing havoc.

The country turns to the wireless for comfort and camaraderie as well as news and Sammy Shaw's popular show Variety Bandwagon is being relayed to America for the first time.

Sammy (gorgeous Gary Wilmot) has added Hollywood star Gary Strong (hunky Darren Bennett) to his usual team which includes Sammy's girlfriend Olive (the brilliant Anna-Jane Casey). Strong arrives, complete with ukulele (believe me, you'll love the massed ukuleles number) and poses a threat to Olive and Sammy's relationship.

Noel Gay's music - remember Run, Rabbit Run, Let the People Sing? - sparkles its way through the story as the hilarious struggle continues to get the show on air despite wartime difficulties. When Sammy forgets to send in the show's security details, they are threatened with closure, but Gary, who has been caught up with sound effects man Jeeps (Christian Edwards) in a London bombing raid, makes an impassioned, poignant broadcast to his countrymen and this, combined with producer Heathcliffe Bultitude (Andrew C Wadsworth) pointing out that the show is excellent for propaganda purposes, saves the day. Meanwhile the uptight Bultitude, charmed by Amy (Vivien Carter), finds a new career when he is overheard reading a hilarious bedtime story to his son.

Wilmot cleverly turns The Watermill audience into part of the cast with his asides and the one-liner jokes come thick and fast, particularly with henchman Wilfred (Julian Littman). Glamour abounds from the three 'Grosvenor Girls,' with Amy and Olive in swirling dresses, the humour pours out from each and every superb actor/musician, there's the endearing camel who loved Ali Baba, the dances are slick magic... you get the picture.

Directed by Caroline Leslie, with Paul Herbert as MD, this is an incandescently joyous, happy entertainment and very, very funny.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

Review from The Times.

Four stars
All the music in this merry show was written before 1954, the year when its composer, Noel Gay, died at the age of 56. His most famous achievement is the music for Me and My Girl, bringing showbiz fame to Lambeth and its Walk, and because almost everything else was written for revues I confess I had no idea that he was the creator of such golden oldies as Run Rabbit Run, The Sun Has Got His Hat On, Leaning on a Lamppost or even I Took My Harp to a Party, which, if I thought of its origin at all, I assumed must date from the Victorian age instead of from 1933.

So what Radio Times does is to gather forty of his songs and hang them along a story line, in the manner made popular by Mamma Mia. And since many of the songs have come to be linked with the Second World War, Abi Grant sets her story at the height of the Blitz.

The cast and creative team of a radio comedy show are battling against bombs, an officious producer and an inconvenient love affair to get their first live broadcast to America on the air. Alex Armitage (Gay’s grandson) has peppered Grant’s book with dozens more jokes, old, very old and even new, and Alistair David’s choreography for the Watermill’s small stage is exhilarating and funny, reaching a peak when the cast of 11 dance and sing Hey! Little Hen while playing ukuleles.

I enjoyed the joke numbers more than the love ballads, though I was delighted by the duet vigorously, gracefully danced and sung by Anna-Jane Casey’s Olive and her film-star chum Gary (Darren Bennett). Gary Wilmot plays the star of the show within the show, and while I am not one of his fervent admirers he catches precisely the quick-fire punning style of the period. More to my liking was Julian Littman’s warm-up comedian and, especially, Andrew C. Wadsworth’s pernickety producer who finds that there is more to life than killing joy.

Caroline Leslie’s direction packs the action with telling detail — raindrops sparkling on the brollies, the ladies of the orchestra knitting when off-duty — and it is weirdly apt that the show should include a speech about buildings burning.

JEREMY KINGSTON

There are reviews from The Public Reviews ("nights out don’t get much better than this... put this to the top of your list of shows to see this Summer", five stars), The Oxford Times ("a really first-rate musical... a great pick-me-up in this depressing era"), the Basingstoke Gazette ("the audience is left uplifted and smiling, thoroughly entertained by the faultless performance") and Marlborough People ("judging by the non-stop hoots of laughter in the auditorium a fantastic night was had by all").