Sweet Charity – Review – Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield
By Jethro Pope, April 2017
Even the harshest critic would be loathe to find fault with an amateur production made by a society that’s been putting shows on as long as the Huddersfield Light Opera Company. For over 100 years it’s been tackling hugely popular musicals and making them equally as professional as, well, the professional versions.
And their current production of Sweet Charity at the Lawrence Batley Theatre is no exception. In fact it’s a fantastic show, featuring all the talent and dedication one would expect from such a well-established company.
It’s the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a dance hall hostess in 1960’s New York City. Charity is a plucky, confident girl-about-town who is desperately looking for love. A fact that leads her to fall for any guy who shows the slightest bit of interest, even though they inevitably screw her over.
The original show was created by legendary director and choreographer Bob Fosse and debuted on Broadway in 1966. After a successful run and winning a bucket load of Tony awards, in 1969 it was made in to a film starring Shirley Maclaine.
“Fun, charismatic and charming”
The book by playwright Neil Simon is witty, at times dark, but hilarious. And he gives the character of Charity a heavy mixture of brass and heart. And in the Light’s production, those attributes play out in equal measures by the show’s brilliant lead, Zoe Clarkson (pictured right).
Zoe’s portrayal of Charity is fun, charismatic and charming. It’s tough to play a girl who is seemingly strong and independent and yet pining for love and escaping her dreary life. Clarkson balances the two perfectly. To coin that well-used musical phrase, she’s a triple threat of dancing, singing and acting. In one scene, the movie star Vittorio Vidal tells Charity ‘she’s wonderful’, and he really could be talking directly to Zoe at that moment.
She has able assistance by a great supporting cast and ensemble. Oscar Lindquist (Martin Stead) gives a solid performance as the nerdy fiancee. And Helene (Ella Midgely), despite being so young, is a sassy and funny friend to Charity. Vittorio Vidal (Dominic Moccia) is also a wonderful addition as a greasy B-list movie star. Although his Italian accent was more Julio Iglesias than Roberto Benigni.
“Certainly no expense spared”
The Light’s stalwart choreographer Pam Strickland encapsulates Fosse’s original and ground-breaking choreography. The stylised 60’s movements complement the show’s jazzy songs. Many of which you’d instantly recognise. The classic ‘Big Spender’, performed by the dance hall hostesses, is sexy, provocative and really stretches the dancers (in every sense of the word). And the uplifting ‘Rhythm Of Life’ is an acid-induced, hippy-fest stomper. It makes me want to throw my hands up and shake my tambourine (if I’d have bothered to bring one).
Although with amateur productions the performers do not receive pay, there’s certainly no expense spared on the sets and lighting. The stage is bordered by LED strips and the performers are lit creatively with a plethora of multi-coloured spots. And, as a nice and clever touch, a video monitor above the stage projects places and times in the story to keep the audience moving with the plot.
To sum up this show, three S’s spring to mind; sexy, stylish, and just like Charity, very sweet.