A Little of What You Fancy

Gareth Machin and Glyn Kerslake

Salisbury Playhouse Production

Salisbury Playhouse

From 20 December 2016 to 21 January 2017

Review by Anne Hill

So what do you do in your small studio theatre when the main house is packed with the all-out, no-holds-barred, traditional pantomime?

As the kids and their friends and families, flashing illuminated sabres and chattering excitedly, leave the foyer on their way upstairs to Aladdin, we look around. Some of us are envying them. And it’s quite noticeable that those who are left are definitely of a rather different generation. Certainly less excitable. And definitely no sabres.

We’re in the Salberg tonight, where three actors and a pianist are going to perform some thirty or so songs and we’re in the sort of parlour that older members of the audience might recognise as belonging to their grandparents’ day, with panelled walls and numerous conventional paintings. There’s a large carpet centre stage. A bit upmarket, but then we are in the Cathedral Close.

The programme’s arranged in two parallel time frames: one covers the year from Christmas to Christmas, while the other follows the evolution of the traditional music hall from its humble beginnings in Victorian pubs and supper rooms to its heyday at the beginning of the last century, when there were more than 500 music halls on offer in central London alone. We recognise the format from television’s Good Old Days and, it being this particular time of year, from the traditional pantomime set-up.

Gareth Machin and Glyn Kerslake, consummate actor, singer and, above all, pianist, who plays Benjamin Fezziwig, have devised the programme between them, with responsibility for all the music resting entirely on Glyn. Then there’s the ever-status-conscious Belinda Fezziwig, played with—often supercilious—wit and charm by Rebecca Trehearn and the much put-upon maid Dora (Sophie Evans), who captures all our hearts with her empathy and sweet voice.

And what can we say about Adrian Grove who plays Belinda’s husband Frederick, except is there anything he can’t do? And the quick-fire dialogue, witty asides, songs and dancing. It’s quite difficult, sometimes, to believe that there are only four of them in this performance.

So what of the songs? Well, there’s something for everyone here. Marie Lloyd, of course. And if you’d been a boy in the gallery, you’d have waved your handkerchief, wouldn’t you? "I do like to be beside the seaside", where the drawing room carpet is flicked over to become a sunny, sandy beach and reminders of the century’s dark days in "We Didn’t Want to Fight" and "He is an Englishman".

Then there are the drinking songs, "Champagne Charlie" and "Drink Old England Dry", not forgetting that there were hard times as well. "I’m a Four Loom Weaver" and "Your baby has gone down the Plughole" strike a sombre chord. So nice to end with a Christmas Medley which we’re invited to join in.

But a little of what you fancy? The cheeky Marie Lloyd song? No, not a little. We’ve been given what we fancy in abundance and, if the laughter and smiling faces are anything to go by as they head towards the bar at the end of the performance, it’s most certainly done us quite a lot of good.