Show was a hoot from start to end
If social media buzz and number of audience members whistling the tunes during the interval is any gauge of success, The Maltings' production of The Producers last week was a runaway hit.
The Mel Brooks musical tells the story of down-on-his-luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock’s (Mark Vevers) crooked partnership with timid accountant and wannabe producer Leopold Bloom (Ross Graham), and a desperate scheme to create a show that closes before the end of the first scene in order to liquidate its excessive funding.
The two believe they have struck pure trash gold when they discover crazed neo-Nazi Franz Liebkind’s (Sammy Reed) script for a celebration of the Fuhrer, Springtime for Hitler. Surely the appointment of the campest director in town (Roger Debris – Oliver Payn) will ensure the show folds before the ink on the programme is dry. Yet against all the odds it proves a roaring success – for everyone except the producers.
The quality of this production was extremely high, from the very first appearance of usherettes Charlotte Payn and Martibe Vrieling van Tuijl to the final curtain.
The experience of the cast was evident, with many familiar faces from previous successful Maltings’ shows. Apart from the two leading men, all of the cast multi-rolled and segued between characters with ease and panache.
There was a palpable energy throughout, which had the audience onside straight away. The quality of direction was notable, with not a single passive moment.
Mark Vevers was outstanding as Bialystock, sustaining a professional performance throughout. His crumpled, desperate producer was sympathetic yet sly, convincingly wheedling several little old ladies out of their money with sleazy ease, and his vocals were superb.
Ross Graham was endearingly innocent as neurotic Bloom, with his growth to experienced man about town believable and touching. They were expertly cast against each other.
Katie Hindmarsh played energetic Swedish actress Ulla with passion and playfulness, bringing her seasoned acting experience to the fore, and her scenes with both the leading men were especially funny.
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Further hilarity was delivered by the campest couple of Broadway, director Roger DeBris (Oliver Payn) and assistant Carmen Ghia (David Simpson); their exhortations to “keep it gay” were flamboyant and suitably fruity, gloriously inappropriate given the subject matter of Springtime for Hitler.
Another standout performance came from Sammy Reed as lunatic Hitler fan, Franz Liebkind, whose scene tending his beloved pigeons had the audience roaring with laughter.
Further mention must go to those (some of whom were members of The Maltings Youth Theatre) who played the cast of not-so-innocent ‘Little Old Ladies’ fleeced by Bialystock.
Nevertheless, the show satirises the darkest of subject matter, and this was pitched just right to ensure that just enough discomfort remained.
Director Wendy Payn is to be commended for her sensitive, sharp direction once again, which was evident in the confidence on stage.
Musical director Neil Metcalfe ensured that all of the musical numbers were extremely slick, and the vocal performances were almost flawless; the same was true of the imaginative and eye-catching choreography of Nancy Steele and Charlotte Payn.
The technical side of the production, too, was sharp, with some very extremely effective use of lighting and set changes.
Berwick should be proud of such a high standard of home grown theatre; few regions can boast a similar quality, as once again The Maltings punches above its weight.