REVIEW: Oklahoma! – South Wight Theatre Group

It was with virginal apprehension that I entered Medina Theatre yesterday evening – having witnessed neither the South Wight Theatre Group, or a production of ‘Oklahoma!’ on the stage before. More fool I for not doing so sooner, as I can recall no other experience thus far that has made me feel so gosh-darned happy about life.

The infectiously energetic cast, comprised entirely of young Island performers (and Bobby Oddy) tackled Rodgers & Hammerstein’s timeless classic with a sophistication beyond their years – remaining consistently impressive across scenes both harrowing and hilarious. It was immediately noteworthy to me that the entire company delivered their lines with a Southern American accent which, while not always 100%  convincing, really exemplified the universally high standard of projection and diction. Medina Theatre is far from acoustically forgiving, and there was not a single performer that I struggled to hear or understand. A good thing too, as there was no shortage of uproarious show-tunes to get through. While there may have been a few shaky starts throughout, the cast would invariably boost each other’s confidence in each of the big choral numbers, and by the time the titular ‘Oklahoma’ was being belted out, it was a wonder the crowd weren’t all roused into singing along (I know I was tempted). Amidst the ensemble was a collection of truly stand-out vocal performances, highlighted by the surprisingly harmonious ‘Poor Jud Is Daid’ and an absolutely show-stopping rendition of ‘I Can’t Say No’.

The music, performed live by a concealed (but fantastic) band, was accompanied by a series of ambitious choices in choreography – which repeatedly paid off in making the endless expanse of Medina’s stage feel both busy and engaging. A great example of this came via the ‘Dream Ballet’ at the end of act one. A colossal undertaking for any cast, let alone a youth one, the routine had clearly been meticulously rehearsed – and the dancers deserve a special commendation for remaining on top form throughout.

In terms of set, the production was simple but very effective, with lights used cleverly to set the mood and cover up some of the bigger scene changes. Overall, the show appeared highly professional in its presentation.

The leading roles were performed by Reannon Potts and Oliver Glanville, who had amazing chemistry as reluctant lovers Curly and Laurey. His confident swagger was complimented perfectly by her naive elegance, and the duo’s strong performance glued the entire show together. In a similar vein, Rebecca McCourt displayed such composure in her charming and understated portrayal of Aunt Eller, that the character’s maternal presence often bled through into reality – with her promptly rescuing the few moments where a fellow performer’s line was skipped or missed.

Ashleigh Hunt-Davis lit up the stage from the second she arrived. With stage presence for days, a glorious singing voice and razor-sharp comic timing, her performance as the ditsy Ado Annie just about stole the show. Though the crowd did take a little warming up, her comic pairings with both Jacob French (as Ali Hakim) and Brennan Coe (as Will Parker) had us in hysterics by the end. Brennan’s ‘Oklahoma Hello’, in particular, was a definite crowd pleaser.

On the subject of comedy, nobody knew quite what to make of Jacob French when he first sauntered onto the stage with his cart of pedlar’s wares. Not allowing the initially cold reaction to knock his confidence, however, the conniving Ali Hakim soon had the audience in the palm of his hand. I suspect we witnessed the birth of a future comic genius.

In complete contrast to this array of cheery characters, Nathan Downes excelled as the sinister and vengeful Jud Fry. A very difficult part to get right, Nathan managed to find the perfect balance between moments of skin crawling tension and frightening rage – ensuring that he was adequately despised by the musical’s climactic finale. Though even this gloomy villain showed a flair for hilarity in his duet with Oliver Glanville (Pore Jud Is Daid), a darkly comedic number that could have been even more successful with a little more emphasis on its inherent silliness.

Such strong performances were not limited to the principal cast, either – with many of the smaller roles proving unforgettable in their own way. Abbie Revert perfected the art of the annoying laugh as Gertie, as well as boasting an adept understanding of stagecraft. Willow Samuel (as Ellen) left the room stunned with her brief but angelic singing interlude, and Ben Glanville came into his own while directing traffic in the ever-popular ‘Farmer and the Cowman’ dance number. All of this was backed up by a positively exuberant choral presence – complete with plenty of volume and ad-libbing. I found Andrew Swallow’s antics as Slim to be particularly entertaining among the ranks of the chorus (that lad has a promising career in jump-rope ahead of him).

All in all, this soul-stirring spectacle receives my fervent recommendation. Now if
you’ll excuse me, I feel the overpowering urge to go and frolic across the fields of
Claremore with a bloomin’ song in my heart.

Don’t miss the remaining performances:

  • Sat 24th Feb @ 7.30pm
  • Sun 25th Feb @ 2.30pm

Book your tickets at  Medina Theatre – here.

Reviewed: 23rd February 2018

Reviewer: Michael Mullin

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