Rock Follies

Book by Chloe Moss, songs by Howard Schuman and Andy Mackay
Chichester Festival Theatre
Minerva Theatre, Chichester

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Zizzi Strallen as Q, Angela Marie Hurst as Dee, Carly Fawden as Anna Credit: Johan Persson
Tamsin Carroll as Gloria Credit: Johan Persson
"Freedom" Credit: Johann Persson

This show is a real blast from the past, and a very real reminder of ‘how things were’, especially in the entertainment industry.

Based on the television series in the 1970s, three chorus girls have a dispute with their arrogant and dictatorial director and walk out. What to do now? Will they ever be able to get work again? How will they survive? Why not form their own girl band, totally independent of men with their wandering hands, domination and sexual innuendoes! So the story begins, they ironically name the group ‘Little Ladies’ and we follow them on their rollercoaster ride wherever it may lead.

The instigator and leader is Angela Marie Hurst as Dee—working class, black and ambitious but also fiercely loyal. Carly Bawden is middle-class Anna, and seemingly the most vulnerable, while Zizzi Strallen is Q, upper class with languidly drawling vowels addressing everyone as ‘darling’, and having a sideline in ‘soft porn’ films to make ends meet. A shame that the class system was so in evidence, and even more a shame that we haven’t yet lost it.

Schuman and Mackay’s songs come swiftly one after another, woven into the narrative, and each one greeted by a very appreciative audience with applause and often cheering. The girls give full value to each one with exceptionally emotional and powerful performances, and harmonise exquisitely when singing together.

They all have beautiful and strong singing voices which can belt out a song with meaning, but the real essence of the show, for me, was the friendship, loyalty and genuine affection which bound the girls together. A sisterhood which was not broken despite arguments and jealousies, and the difficulties of managing personal relationships. However, Strallen’s Q finally and angrily dismissing her dominating but dependent boyfriend nearly brought the house down with audience approval.

There is excitement when they are employed as a backing group to a deranged ‘superstar’, but disappointment and rage when they are expected to perform as cats in dustbins. Happily, they don’t give up hope and are helped on their journey by Tamsin Carroll’s wonderfully portrayed Gloria who totally understands their cause.

The only furniture in the show is a collection of large boxes which are constantly on the move, whisked on and off and around being whatever is needed at the time. The speed and dexterity of the cast and crew to rearrange them must have needed a great deal of complicated choreography, but, instead of being a distraction, it keeps the pace of the show at a very high level, increasing a sense of urgency and excitement.

The audience was fully engaged with every aspect of this amazing show, in fact the anticipation was high even before it began and all were on their feet at curtain call for a totally deserved standing ovation. It was also a pleasure to spot Rula Lenska, one of the original Little Ladies, in the audience, accompanied by Howard Schuman.

Directed at a cracking pace by Dominic Cooke, this truly is a blast from the past and a true blast of a show. Fabulous!

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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