Charley’s Aunt (Questors Theatre)

The Questors Student Group return to their Ealing home in Brandon Thomas’s classic farce, and it hasn’t lost any of its power to amuse since Victorian days.

Tony Sears in Charley's Aunt
Tony Sears in Charley’s Aunt

Against a simple set by Anjali Karadia which allows arches to act as quick escape routes both inside and out, the romantic plans of young Jack (Joshua Perry) and Charley (Bradley Peake) are carried out.

Their respective young ladies Kitty (Ruth Comerford) and Amy (Sunaina McCarthy) are coming to lunch, and Charley’s mysterious aunt from Brazil will be there to chaperone – or will she?

Bradley Peake, Tony Sears and Joshua Perry in Charley's Aunt
Bradley Peake, Tony Sears and Joshua Perry in Charley’s Aunt

When the mysterious aunt sends word of delay, penniless aristo friend of the boys, Lord Fancourt Babberley (a marvellous Tony Sears) is prevailed upon to impersonate her, with more fun and intrigue to come when both Jack’s father (Matthew Saldana) and Amy’s uncle (William Busby) arrive as unexpected guests.

Running across three acts and two intervals, the pace of Richard Gallagher’s production never lags, and both the timing and physical comedy (particular the bundling of the wiry Sears over furniture and through windows) is spot on.

Tony Sears in Charley's Aunt
Tony Sears in Charley’s Aunt

With the eventual appearance of two more ladies who cause even more of a puzzle (Jordan Fowler as the real aunt, and Julia Caldwell as her ward), not to mention the knowing disdain of butler Brackett (Jake Burman) we are set for the traditional happy ending after much rushing, running, and general messing about.

A sparkling evening. Charley’s Aunt ran at the Questors from 13-20 July.

Photo credits by Robert Vass.

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Side Show (Questors Playhouse)

The story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, sold to a side show as children but longing for normal lives, might not seem obvious material for a musical, but it works quite well here.

Victoria Jones and Sarah Lister in Side Show. Photo credit Stephen Brooks.
Victoria Jones and Sarah Lister in Side Show. Photo credit Stephen Brooks.

GLOC, an amateur theatre company based in Greenford, perform one large-scale musical a year, usually something that has been neglected – indeed there has only been one professional production of Side Show in the UK, at the Southwark Playhouse three years ago.

I first became aware of the Hilton sisters in the 1990s, when I saw them in the Tod Browning Hollywood film, Freaks. Despite the title, and the fact the film was banned for many years, it actually presents its cast of actors with disabilities and differences with some sympathy.

They were pretty and talented, and in more modern times may have been superstars, but work remained thin once vaudeville opportunities dried up. In the 1950s their story was fictionalised in an exploitation film, Chained for Life, and the twins ended their days working in a grocery store.

Side Show boasts a number of group numbers for the full cast, plus big voiced solos for minor characters like Jake (Matt Marchant, who effectively conveys frustration and affection for the twins), Terry (Mark Evans, who displays a vibrant vocal range), Houdini (Stefano Bassi, who also appears in chorus roles) and the twins themselves.

Dream sequences jostle with reality, with a lot of humour running through the piece, as the twins find their independence, reach for a bit of happiness, and then reconcile with the fact the world just sees them as curiosities.

Matthew Pimm’s director and choreography could put a number of professional productions to shame, and if there were a couple of microphone mishaps, these were easily overlooked with the excellent lighting and accomplished band led by Ken Williams.

Bill Russell and Henry Krieger’s songs are very good, and this musical deserves a bit more recognition, as do Daisy and Violet Hilton – here they are represented as women with the same dreams, emotions and ambitions as anyone else.

Side Show might be ripe for a professional revival, given the success of The Greatest Showman, which also features bearded ladies and the like. But while we wait, this production is on until Saturday at Ealing’s little theatre jewel, so go if you can.

Sleeping Beauty (Questors, Ealing)

The traditional Christmas pantomime comes to life at the Questors with a sweet princess, a dotty dame in the personage of the Queen, and a hissable villainess as the green witch Caraboose causes havoc.

The formula of tradition – boos, “it’s behind you”, singalongs, and an eclectic and well-curated set of songs – works well.

The children in the cast are a talented bunch and in the principals, a nod needs to be given to old hand Howard Shepherdson as the Queen, Russell Fleet as a magnificent bad girl, and Rory Hobson as the Buttons-like Billy, who leads the audience in song with the old tongue-twisting coffee pot number.

There’s a hint of blue for the grown-ups, a nod to big ticket musicals (the whole castle rises up against the threat to their princess with ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ from Les Mis, and Aurora greets her prince Orlando with Aladdin’s ‘A Whole New World’), and tributes to variety we’ve lost – the show opens with Ken Dodd’s ‘Happiness’.

Once again this hardworking amateur company have provided the goods for a fun and reasonably priced family show.

Mother Goose (Questors Theatre)

We all know the pantomime traditions and tropes – the middle-aged man in numerous petticoats as the Dame, a young girl as the Principal Boy, popular songs, bad jokes, audience participation and healthy booing of the villains.

Up in town you have Julian Clary and Nigel Havers treading the boards, while Biggins is in Richmond, but in Ealing an accomplished cast of amateur players including a cute set of children keep the Judi Dench Playhouse audience entertained.

The key villain of Baron von Rumpensmakker  (ho ho) reminded me of Basil Rathbone in swashbuckler mode, and he and his Irish Gonk riding geese stirred memories of old Bernie Clifton’s ostrich.

A hard-working cast including some precocious children who are truly set for brighter things if fate and hard work allow keep things moving with the usual misdirection, sing-song, tap dance, and even a decorating routine worthy of the best of Charlie Drake.  The good fairy, the bad troll, and the wise old goose round off proceedings with a deep-voiced snow monster pulling the finale together.

The Questors is located on Mattock Lane behind Ealing Broadway.