Oklahoma! a rootin', tootin' success

LAUREY was angry and Will imploring. And Ado Annie just couldn t keep her hands off the men. It was back to the old corral last week at the Kenneth More Theatre as Ilford Operatic and Dramatic Society presented a lively and youthful version of the Rodger

LAUREY was angry and Will imploring. And Ado Annie just couldn't keep her hands off the men.

It was back to the old corral last week at the Kenneth More Theatre as Ilford Operatic and Dramatic Society presented a lively and youthful version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, Oklahoma!

Directed by Owen Smith, this was a smartly-cast piece, with Denise Cresswell doing wonderful service as a feisty and funny Aunt Eller; this part is such a gift and Denise made the most of every minute to really bring the role to life.

She got the portrayal of a strong prairie woman just right and the sparkle in her eye gave Aunt Eller extra verve.

Sean Gillary was terrific as Curly - a more vulnerable Curly than some I have seen, but all the more likeable and watchable for that. It is good to see Sean in a lead role - he has more than enough charisma, along with a strong singing voice and good acting skills.

From the moment he launched into Oh What a Beautiful Mornin', you really felt that it was going to be a good day.

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Jessamy Stoddart's Laurey was also more fragile - and less angry - than other interpretations I have seen.

But this was a well-nuanced performance from talented Jessamy. Almost ethereally pretty, she has a beautifully sweet voice and a very engaging manner. I hope we see lots more of her.

There was good chemistry between this Curly and Laurey - they were not just going through the motions as they bickered and flirted.

The trio led a strong cast that included the impressively effervescent Grant Leat as Will Parker and twinkling Jenni Allen as the frolicsome Ado Annie.

Russell Gillary was good as the pedlar Ali Hakim (although his accent was suspect in places) and Phil Clarke was appropriately brooding and disturbed as the ill-fated Jud Fry.

Jeremy Smith and Jacqui Rochester did good service as Ado Annie's bemused parents Andrew and Martha Carnes.

One of my favourite moments, where Curly prefigures Jud's funeral, was handled with style, humour and great confidence.

At times the piece felt a little hesitant, perhaps due to actors' nerves. And I didn't really rate the fight scene between Curly and Jud, which somehow lacked punch (apologies for the terrible pun). But these are minor grumbles.

Jamie Bell wielded the baton over an excellent orchestra and Owen provided the lively choreography - no easy feat as this was a large cast with a lot of demands. A good set and dramatic lighting from Rob Mitchell-Gears lent weight to the production.

- SUE LEEMAN

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