Winchester’s happy place is the Theatre Royal, wherein you’ll find WMOS at their even-better-than-best, with a sparkling production of that happiest of musicals, Me And My Girl.

Originally produced in 1937, this ingeniously revised version, with book by Stephen Fry, opened in Leicester in 1984, transferring to the Adelphi Theatre in London where it ran for seven years. Director Dawn Brown’s expertise and thorough understanding of the required style has drawn some fantastic work from the company, not least with regard to the comedic elements which play so crucial a part in the proceedings. This is out-and-out straightforward Musical Comedy, and needs to be played as such. (I still shudder at the memory of a production which casually altered emphases, melodies, and even one principal character’s gender, and no, I’m not kidding.)

You only need to hear the first few seconds of the show’s splendid overture (splendidly played by the 11-piece band under the superb direction of John Sparrow) to smile in the knowledge that this is going to be a hugely happy evening. The scene-setting opening number, ‘A Weekend At Hareford’, whisks us simply yet ingeniously from London to the country, and already we are admiring the musical staging and the consistently effective and enjoyable choreography of Chrissy Hotton. At the Hall, we meet the blustering and hilarious Sir John Tremayne of Peter Barber, and Maria, Duchess of Dene, played in full wonderful battleaxe mode (and with some great comic delivery) by Annie Tatnall, whose glorious soprano is given full rein in act two’s ‘Song Of Hareford’. We also meet Herbert Parchester, the unexpectedly (and hilariously) ebullient Family Solicitor of Simon Meanwell-Ralph, whose revelations in the opening scene cue the fun that is to follow, much to the consternation of Gerald (a priceless silly-ass performance by Daniel Williams), and the man-and-money-chasing Lady Jaquie. As characterized by Molly Moffitt McGrath, Lady J is a delightful yet formidable minx, hurling herself (literally!) at the newly-discovered Earl of Hareford, while singing and dancing with enormous skill and charm. (Just wait til you see what she gets up to in the number ‘You Would If You Could’!)

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Hampshire Chronicle: Me and My Girl at the Theatre Royal

The Earl in question is Bill Snibson, a Lambeth Cockney, who for reasons you’ll need to see the show to find out, has suddenly come into a massive inheritance. Not surprisingly, his arrival at Harefield Hall is akin to a box of fireworks being set off in a public library, and the Aristocracy can’t believe what’s hit them. Matt McGrath’s assumption of this massively demanding role triumphantly ticks all the right boxes, and sweeps the audience along with him from the moment he bursts onto the stage. He’s the driving force behind so much of the comic mayhem, and his physical comedy (his legs occasionally seem to have a mind of their own….just watch!) is a hoot. But this is far from a one-note performance – he also has great charm (if this character doesn’t have charm by the bucketload, the show and the story would be very much the poorer), and his tender moments are reserved for his girl Sally, a delightfully appealing Olivia Conroy, who gives a sweetly touching performance of (for me) the show’s prettiest song, ‘Once You Lose Your Heart’. She also shares, with Matt, the show’s title song, arguably one of the most enchanting title songs to come from a British musical, and their performance is every bit as enchanting.

Hampshire Chronicle: Me and My Girl at the Theatre Royal

The settings and lighting are elegant, the period costumes are lovely to look at. Supporting and Ensemble roles (everyone is a character) are witty and well-drawn, and it’s impossible not to be caught up in such a high-spirited romp, packed as it is with such fun and so many gloriously daft jokes and one-liners. By the end of act one, as the ‘Lambeth Walk’ number builds…and builds… and builds….resistance is useless, and you’ll probably find yourself clapping along as willingly as we did at the opening night performance. If you’re in need of a bit of cheering up – or even if you’re not – this is a wonderful and heartwarming night out for all ages. When Bill and Sally (and later, the entire company) sing “And we’ll have love / laughter / be happy ever after”, it doesn’t just refer to the plot of the show. It’s what we’d all like Real Life to be like, and it’s thanks to WMOS that we leave the theatre having been gifted a generous helping of it.

WMOS will be embarking on their next production The Producers in June with an information evening on June 6 at 7.30pm, at the United Church on Jewry Church. The society is looking for new cast members as well for people to help behind the scenes.

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