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f you’re anything like me, you love a bit of amateur dramatics on a week day. Just a taste to remind yourself that you’re alive outside the humdrum of your 9 to 5 and you ‘got culture’. So, you’d choose to support local artists and local events any day over watching pop culture’s latest injection of reality television. It’s good to get out and interact with people, excite the imagination, and practice a bit of healthy escapism at the theatre. That’s why I was delighted to high tail it down the motorway from Preston after work for some good old school, toe-tapping, knee slapping, musical sing-a-long fun at Blackpool’s magnificent Grand Theatre last Wednesday.

It was comforting to find that other theatre goers felt much the same. The North West turned up in droves to show their support – and on a school night no less. It was the opening night and there was a fairly good range of people in the audience; proud parents and grandparents and even some children, sharing a common buzz of anticipation. As I ascended the stairs and felt that familiar sense of expectation rising up from my gut, I reached the balcony where I could see the theatre spread out before me. I felt like I had ‘arrived’. Then again, I think that was just the live orchestra cranking out jazzy feel good tunes (as they do), seducing us with their ‘I Got Rhythm’ saxophones and horns; a taste of what was to come. I managed to stop myself from doing chorus girl high kicks over to my seat and let the usher direct me in silence to the appropriate row.

The curtain rose to reveal a clever set, a play within a play. Here we were an ordinary audience in Blackpool, bursting with anticipation and through the magic of theatre we were transported to the backstage of a New York City theatre, witnessing the Zangler Follies’ curtain call and an excitable Bobby Child waiting in the wings. Of course this sense of escapism was assisted by the ‘New Yawk’ accent mastered by the actors of the Blackpool Operatic Players. It was a good 1930s New York theatre accent, full of giggles and bubble gum of course, exactly what one would expect.
It didn’t take long for Karl Hugo’s Bobby Child to win us over with his love for dance, as he tried in vain to win the affection and support of the eccentric Hungarian theatre director Bela Zangler, played by Stewart Harland. One could tell Bobby loved his tap dance and the odd mis-step was soon forgiven. Was it Bobby? Or was it Karl? Who knows? After all, it could be in the script. Bobby had passion, a willingness to work hard, but he was indeed looking for his big break, some recognition. One could sense this as he chased Mr Zangler back and forth across the stage like an attention seeking child calling, “Look at this! Look at me!” making us chuckle. He then proceeded to dazzle us with a series of complicated tap steps, which deservedly won the applause of the audience.

Soon they were all at it, as the Zangler Follies ladies emerged, twenty deep, from a wooden Model T (expertly replicated for the stage). The audience erupted with applause and mirth as this troop of hot pink buxom beauties spilled from the car and assisted Bobby in tickling our funny bones whilst they danced and sang, I Can’t Be Bothered Now.

Throughout the play Bobby experiences both the highs and lows of his situation with great drama and drive, as we see him catapulted to Deadrock, Nevada on a mission to foreclose on the dilapidated and all but abandoned Gaiety Theatre. This was done under the strict orders of his domineering mother, Lottie Childs. There’s a spell of Bobby impersonating Bela Zangler and of course the tug of war-like journey of winning and losing and winning his true love Polly again.

Whilst the show did not go on without a hitch or two: wobbly sets, a mis-step here and there, an unfortunately long script, and the odd dropped dancer (you know, the usual obstacles that come along with amateur dramatics), the stamina and excitement of the cast and the genius behind the Gershwin Brothers’ music carried the Blackpool Operatic Players to the finish line quite nicely.

Praise must be paid to the men who played the cowboys of the sleepy town of Deadrock. There was a story told through their body language alone, as they translated the hot, sluggish, desolate nature of Deadrock in their walk, the way they sat (all hunched over and lazy-like) drinkin’ their moonshine from tin cups. The slow pace of Deadrock was apparent even in the way they said “theee-ate-her”, holding on to their braces, and furrowing their brows under worn ten gallon hats.

You may already know this, but I’ll tell you anyway; Bobby’s hard work pays off in the end. Indeed, he gains Polly’s genuine love and admiration and at last he wins the affection of an audience of his own when he and the Zangler Follies join the residents of Deadrock to put on a show fit for Broadway.

In my humble opinion (and judging by the eruption of laughter coming from the rest of the audience, I think they would agree) the real triumph of this production belongs to the performance of the actors who played the British travel-writing couple. These two innocently stumble upon the Deadrock scene, all decked out in khaki, horn-rimmed spectacles, and mouths full of the Queen’s English: “Oh, rather!” and “Spiffing!” The actors expertly performed a caricature of the 1930s British tourist in America, lifting the sleepy spirit of Deadrock and injecting a good dose of British humour.

As the curtain fell for the final time and the musicians’ instruments stopped crooning, I felt satisfied, albeit somewhat fatigued. I suppose that’s the reality of playing out on a school night. Would I do it again? Oh, rather!

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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