Review: Am Dram – a musical comedy. Curve Theatre. 27-29 May.

What a joy to be back in the theatre and what a way to open the post-COVID season than with a musical comedy that centres around a love of the stage and the opportunities it brings.

Conceived by childhood friends Alex Parker and Katie Lam back in 2013, Am Dram: A Musical Comedy gives a witty and entertaining glimpse into the world of amateur dramatics along with the rivalries and camaraderie between society members.

As the large Curve auditorium is adapted for just over 500 mask-wearing people, our applause and cheers aren’t given their full auditory capacity in the vastness of the empty space. However, the actors are not troubled by this and behave as if the 1000 seater auditorium is full to the rafters. Performed in the round, the set is minimalistic and comprises mainly of nine chairs with a few other essential props, making transitions between scenes easy to manage by the accomplished cast of seven.

The performance begins with a rousing company number reminiscent of a 1980s sitcom, a nostalgic nod to the time when creators Parker and Lam met back in Class 4 when they were just 8 years old. The opening choreography is fun and tongue-in-cheek for regular theatre-goers, or those who have trod the boards themselves. This happy reviewer finds herself grinning from ear to ear. It’s just a shame the face mask hides my joy!

As an entity, the musical is mainly light-hearted but there are contrasting moments of vulnerability which are highlighted simply and effectively by the lighting designed by Jack Weir. Like the staging, the lighting is minimalistic, but at points of high drama, becomes emphatic and unexpected.

The characters are perfectly cast with Wendy Ferguson playing the passive-aggressive Honoria who, with a swish of her scarf, can appear brash and demanding, but who demonstrates her anxieties through the beautiful song “Always Me”. Laura Pitt-Pulford shines as Rose, the new, ex professional girl on the block, who dares to audition for the Golden Empress against Janie Dee’s Diana, a long-standing member of the am dram group. These two women demonstrate a full range in voice as well as performance as their rivalry turns to respect, with each making a realisation about themselves and each other. A special mention at this point needs to go to Janie Dee’s impressive comic timing.

It’s always difficult to portray multiple characters, but Sharan Phull is able to display the characteristics of the numerous Karens with aplomb. Raj Ghatak’s Max, the new professional director, fits well into this diverse bunch as he tries with grace, bemusement, and some frustration to bring everyone together. Debbie Chazen as the bag-for-life toting ex-teacher Elaine, immediately endears herself to the audience. The audience just love it when she finally finds her voice and hilarious dance moves in “Never Give Up”.

The standout performance though comes from an actor who, in the opinion of this reviewer, is somewhat side -lined in the performance and more could be made of his character. Jordan Lee Davies is an excellent physical theatre practitioner and this reviewer’s  eye is drawn to him whenever he is on the stage. Although Davies has fewer lines, his energy never falters. His over-exaggerated movements are side-splitting; his facial expressions really set the mood, and his 1990s boyband-esque rapping is …well…a real treat!

The Director, James Robert Moore, along with choreographer, Joanna Goodwin, have done a stunning job of filling the sparse minimalistic stage with such effusive and contrasting characters. The performance is most effective when the whole ensemble is present on the stage, with the energy only dropping slightly when it isn’t the full ensemble. However, the musical numbers, always raise those energy levels and this reviewer can’t wait to hear the toe tapping soundtrack again.

Most of the cast members are Curve Theatre alumni, and it is glorious to see them back on the stage, where they belong. It is even more special that these professional actors are representing their amateur brethren who perform, not for accolades or awards or wages, but for love and, in shows where “talent is preferred but not required”. The rousing closing number, “We are Family” is particularly poignant as theatres reopen. So, here’s a toast to the audience members, performers (professional and amateur), backstage crews, front-of-house crews, committee members, creative teams and reviewers, as the ghost lights are switched off, and let’s celebrate that our theatrical family is back!

  • A special mention must be to all the Curve Theatre ushers and staff who made us all feel especially welcome and safe to this excellent live performance.

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