The fringe is a foreign county; they do things differently there.
For the Whingers, attention during a fringe production always takes third place (at best) to other concerns.
Saturday night’s performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the Landor Theatre, for example, was performed against the background of additional un-scored percussion courtesy of Andrew’s pocket abacus upon which he was doggedly calculating the economics of staging a musical with 26 cast members (plus band) in an auditorium which seats 65 people who have paid just £12 to get in.
Phil, on the other hand, spent most of the show breathing into a paper bag in an effort to recover from the pre-theatre anxiety brought on by his personal bête noire which is unallocated seating.
But there are benefits too. Fringe theatres tend to be over or behind pubs and the Landor not only has a large outside area, but also seems to have generous opening hours. It’s practically unheard of for the Whingers to leave a pub before it stops serving or indeed without the feel of a licensed victualler’s hand firmly guiding them between chair-laden tables to the door. But that was how Saturday ended.
Anyway, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was written by Larry L. King, Peter Masterson and Carol Hall and is based on the true story of the Chicken Ranch, a long-standing bordello which lived in peaceful co-existence with the La Grange, Texas community until a zealous reporter decided to work his moral indignation up into a campaign to have it closed down.
Most people know of it from the 1982 movie version which starred Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. In fact one of the cast members – Jonathan Eio (actually it looks like E10 in the programme but that’s Leytonstone which seems unlikely) – pays homage to the musical in his biography. It’s the old, old story…
During his childhood, Jonathan once saw a VHS tape on the front room table entitled WHOREHOUSE. Of course curiosity got the better of him, and although it didn’t turn out to be what was expected (he was young and naive) he believes this film started off his enthusiasm and ambition to be in Musical Theatre [his caps].
That Dolly Parton has so much to answer for.
Anyhoooo. Directed by Paul Tate (who
directed was in last year’s universally lauded production of Follies directed by RobMcWhir) this production has gusto and oomph and some sterling performances.
The Whingers particularly liked Suzie Chard who played the brothel owner Miss Mona (although they were shocked to discover afterwards that she really does look like that; see below) and the criminally overlooked Myra Sands (Doatsey Mae) who sadly has but one song. Trevor Jary as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd gave it his all, as did Janine Pardo (Angel) and Johanna Stanton (Shy).
The Whingers were of course thrilled to see Fascinating Aida star Adèle Anderson (who came to their party and hence can do no wrong in their books) steal all three of her scenes in the cameo part of Jewel, the maid.
It’s not the best musical ever written but it’s great fun (apart from the very downbeat ending) and everyone in this chorus gave it their all.
In fact the only bits that really didn’t work were the portrayal of reporter Melvin P Thorpe (Richard Swerrun) as Bob Downe (teeth, tan and all) and the somewhat mystifying portrayal of his retinue as a bunch of very effeminate gays.
Anyway, Andrew was particularly pleased that not only can you take drinks into the auditorium, but you can take them in a real glass. Exploiting this generous gesture he proceeded to smuggle his bottle of wine in too, concealed in his Dorothy bag and was in seventh heaven. It all came to a sorry end later of course.
Another advantage to fringe theatre over a pub is that the performers cannot resist staying for a drink afterwards and this provides Phil with a ready audience of his showbusiness reminiscences.
Poor Myra Sands (Doatsey Mae). Little could she have imagined when she created the role of Jennyanydots in the original production of Cats all those years ago that it would come back to haunt her in the guise of Phil rambling on about the time he saw her in it and the programme had a slip in it announcing that Elaine Paige would play the role of somethingorother blah blah blah.
“You must have been a child!” exclaimed Sands who is either very polite or has a wonderfully deadpan delivery or has failing eyesight.
Andrew would have regaled the lovely Myra with his own showbiz tales, but unfortunately the bottle was now empty and he was struggling to alliterate the words “West End Whingers” let alone his favourite old chestnut about the time he saw Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé in Las Vegas. Miss Sands had a very narrow escape.
Phil and Andrew went on to commiserate with her for her recent association with Postcards from God: the Sister Wendy Musical in which she played the role of Only Redeeming Factor.
Of course, once the cast got wind of the fact that the Whingers were in, there was no peace for the wicked.
Suzie Chard (Mona) was first in the queue and insisted on having her photograph taken with them (left).
It can be of course be quite gruelling to be the centre of all this attention, but the Whingers do feel it is important to make time for their public.
Where would they be without them, after all?
And poor Adèle Anderson (Jewel) and
Craig O’Hara Luke Fredericks (Aggie / Dogette / Reporter) whose attempts at a quiet recuperative drink after the show were thwarted by Mark 1 (embarrassingly a member of the Whingers’ inner circle) dancing up and down excitedly behind them (right).
Anyway, everyone was a terribly good sport about everything and it all made for a much more enjoyable evening than the rather pedestrian West End experience of simply sitting through a play. It could never happen in the West End; when was the last time you interacted with Maggie Smith in a bar?
All things considered, the Whingers still think the Landor would be the ideal place to try out the Whingers Songs from Shows from Shows revue before it transfers to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for a record-breaking run.
See you on Broadway!