Bow exits stage left with variety oozing out of the Arts Centre

Review: Lucy Goodison

Bridport Arts Centre will never be the same again.  Not since we saw the top-hatted John Strompet lugubriously rocking his chair in the balcony surrounded by ghosts of his days in Vaudeville, his Uncle Sirius' coffin parading down the foyer, and a chorus line with waistcoats and feather boas doing dong-and-dance on each step up to the Allsop Gallery.

The poster of this year's B.O.W. Production Vaudevillious, called it a promenade show.  The Art world would call it site-specific.  What it did was lead us through every inch of the centre's building with a surreal or spooky twist at every turn, transforming familiar spaces into scenes of comic/macabre detective story. The quest to discover whether John Strompet would return to Vaudeville or exit stage left (the last goodbye) was entangled with an explanation of the Centre's past as theatre, Methodist church and ritual site.  And a hunt to find the location of the deceased uncle Sirius' hidden treasure, not to mention the sinister causes of the demise of various other members of the Strompet dynasty, and through it all questions about why there's no business like show-business and what live performance offers over the flat screen of a tv/computer.

The question at least was answered.  From its opening on the forecourt with the arrival of an open-top VW bursting with instruments and musicians in dark glasses, the show never ceased to charm and surprise.  No broom-cupboard was too small for a character solo.  No gallery too large for a mysterious monologue.  In falling darkness we witnessed figures in black robes and hoods opening the coffin in the back garden (formerly the church's graveyard), a ghostly face at the gallery window, a dream-like sequence of mime to an ancient phonograph in the cafe, glitzy scenes backstage, rehearsal and preparation on stage, until the journey through John Strompet's memories culminated with the collapse ofa curtain wall to reaveal a mini Vaudeville Spectacle, with comedy, dance, song, rhythmic gymnasts, conjuriing and poi (and cake for the audience).

With the complex coordination and collaboration involved in a production like this, it would be invidious to name individual performers: credit goes to Tom Beed, Freya Brightwater, Thomas Chapman, Rosabel Cheyne, Alfie Golding, Julio Guarita, Matilda Hawthorne, Callum Hughes, Josep Grew-McEvoy, Tilly Jeune, Cleo Nestor, Alfie Payne, Hugh Ramsden, Max Shirley, and Leila Whitney.  The show was devised by Herbie Treehead with Robert Lee, who wrote the sassy songs and led the musicians, Simon Hartung, Michael Grew and Emma McEvoy.  As the be-talcumed, bombastic compere, Falconers Tripe, Herbie Treehead also presented the show, but large parts of it were created by the young people of the Operatic Workshop themselves, all written and rehearsed within one week. 

Treehead and Lee managed to capture and organise the teenage cast's enthusiasm, originality, talent and sheer front.  As John Strompet finally exits stage left, the last line of the show is "Free the building!"

I've never seen it so freed. 

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