Last night I had to make a snap decision. Should I make a 35 mile round trip to look at a second-hand roof box or go with the kids to see some amateur theatre in a nearby park? Norwich has a long tradition of Shakespeare in the Park - usually one of the comedies - and I was wondering if I really wanted to sit through another worthy production of As You Like It. Good stuff but heavily reliant on dialogue and in the open air with untrained voices? Well, maybe. But when I asked what was playing I was told it was a piece loosely based on The Beano. That clinched it. For those of you who don't know The Beano is a children's comic founded in 1938. Its stars include Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and, obviously the inspiration here, The Bash Street Kids. So this is why my kids are so keen to go. The penny drops.
I was very glad I went. This was the perfect antidote to the performance I bemoaned in my previous post. Not a megaphone or PA in sight. Instead there was an animated cast prepared to project and sing out. Also - oh joy! - there was a live band playing music especially devised for the piece. This comprised trumpet, two saxes, tuba, guitar, banjo and two drummers. They're all there - the camera angle makes is difficult to see the back row. In fact the entire show was refreshingly low-tech. The only electricity involved was the batteries used by a cast member to activate lights on his costume in the second half.
Using live music must have presented challenges. The band needs to be close to the stage for communication with the cast and to present the audience with a coherent spectacle. Even indoors, with the actors wearing those little mics that make them all look like extras from ER (fine for sci-fi but very distracting in a period piece), it's hard to get the balance right. But they handled this so well that it only occurred to me later. Walls tend to reinforce instruments and perhaps their absence allowed the sounds to escape. They were facing across the stage whereas the cast directed their songs and dialogue straight at the audience. But great skill and sensitivity were also in evidence: trumpets, drums and saxophones are not naturally quiet.
The show was called The Chalk Hill Gang and the company Crude Apache. My daughter is going again tonight. If I wasn't otherwise engaged I would probably join her. Live, acoustic musical theatre, an original show and all in the open air. It doesn't get much better than this. And the world, I have no doubt, is still full of roof boxes.