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The Bakewell Bake Off

by on 25 April 2018

Should Sell Like Hot Cakes

The Bakewell Bake Off

by The Baking Committee

Hinchley Manor Operatic Society at Hampton Hill Theatre until 28th April

Review by Vince Francis

Hinchley Manor Operatic Society (HMOS) has taken up the challenge of The Bakewell Bake Off, a piece written by a group of students, known as “the Baking Committee”, from the Guildford School of Acting. Originally intended as a writing exercise, it was given a trial run in the Waterloo East theatre in 2013 before transferring to the Landor.

From the original blurb, we get the synopsis:  “Take seven eager contestants, three feuding judges and one bewildered hostess, add flour eggs and sugar and mix together in a small village. Add the pressure of a baking competition and you’ve got a recipe for a hilarious musical comedy!”  (SimG Productions)

bakeoff 0

Arriving at Hampton Hill Theatre for the opening night, we were greeted warmly by the stewards, guarding the table displaying cakes, which can be taken in exchange for a donation to charity, together with the raffle prizes.

Once seated, the set takes us inside a straightforward village hall, depicted by a single stage-width flat with mock window and a working door. Blackboards, bunting and notices add to the authenticity. The bunting on stage extends into the auditorium, to draw us into the action and, indeed, there is some audience interaction, orchestrated with great authority by Victoria Sponge. More of her in a moment. The “corporation” green and cream colours are a nice touch, being reminiscent of many a parish hall and bringing to mind the school discos of my now sadly distant youth.

Three tables on locking wheels, together with a set of wheeled treads are used cleverly to provide surfaces for the baking and another level of staging for singers. These are moved around the stage by the cast without fuss. This device works well and helps to provide visual variety and occasional emphasis for a solo. Props are brought on and taken off by the cast, again, seamlessly. The ensemble also acts as stage crew, to the extent of cleaning up after the more slapstick moments.

From where I was sitting in the centre of the auditorium, the sound seemed well balanced and, generally, at the right sort of levels. I fancied I could hear the stage right monitor, even though the piano was stage left, which is good. Everyone could be heard clearly, although when singing chorally, the piano was a little overpowered. I also thought I heard a little tasteful reverb being added to the sung vocals in the second half. Nice. I might be imagining that, of course.

Costumes go for the authentic look, even on those characters who are, shall we say, extending the concept of everyday casual.

 

It has to be said, many of the character names sound like drag acts and that’s probably deliberate. We have Victoria Sponge, Flora Drizzle, Tina Tartin, Susie Sunflower and Holly Berry, alongside which are the likes of Henrietta Apfelstrudel, Griselda Pratt-Dewhurst and Freddie Twist.

The script is full of innuendo and double-entendre, which I love, but it is more than the pantomime that might suggest. The weakness, for me, is in the attempt at a comment on race relations, which is written into the interactions between Hugh Dripp and Pradeepta Smith. Zak Negri (Hugh) and Gill Varon (Pradeepta) handle these well, but there’s only so much that can be done.

Our first contact is with Victoria Sponge, played with great zest and knowing humour by Paige Fayers. Victoria likes to present herself as a kindly, but no-nonsense Mistress of Ceremonies, but there is a red-blooded woman underneath the veneer, who occasionally lets her presence be known …

… Sorry, I was slightly distracted there for a moment.

Victoria is the “hub” character, who is runs the competition, but is also acts as the audience contact for the participation elements, dealing with getting mobile devices turned off at the beginning of both halves, exhorting us to stand for the anthem and overseeing the raffle draw – yes, there is one. As an aside, I’m not normally a fan of raffles at shows, although I understand why societies run them. However, when they are dealt with in this way, I can get on board with them.

Performance-wise, the cast get hold of this and then it’s a matter of “fasten your seat belt, folks”, which works well for the most part. Steve Green’s direction brings out the comedy in both the script and the characters well, although overall, I wondered whether just backing off a touch on that high-energy pantomime feel might allow a bit more depth in the story to come through.

Mr. Green in a dress is a sight to behold, but his portrayal of cross-dressing German Henrietta Apfelstrudel is thoroughly believable and is an example of a comic character with a back story, which I would like to have seen a little higher in the mix.

I also enjoyed Katy Simon’s Flora Drizzle. A geek scientist, struggling to come out and declare her love to the fragrant Susie Sunflower, played with suitable delicacy by Claire Weston.

Musically, the score kind of does what you expect at the relevant moments, but is none the less charming for that and the solo piano, played with great aplomb by Musical Director Debbi Linley, adds to the village hall feel of the piece. Debbi has done a fine job with the cast, too. Although there were a couple of “pitchy” moments, I put this down to first night nerves, since they weren’t repeated elsewhere in the show. Standout moments for me were Sister Mary’s “Bake Your Way to Heaven”, with the gospel style choral accompaniment. The song builds to a characteristic high note ending. I could hear it coming and wondered what Catherine Quinn, as Sister Mary would do with it. She nailed it! I also loved the harmonies between Susie Sunflower and Freddie Twist (Ben Thomas) in “We Might Fall In Love”

Choreographically, Kelly Neilson has played to the strengths of the company so, for the most part, everyone looked coordinated, confident in what they were doing and thus able to present it to the audience, rather than checking what the person next to them is doing, which can sometimes be a bit of a give-away for amateur productions.

In summary, this is a well-drilled, experienced and confident cast, which, in turn gives the audience confidence to sit back and enjoy the portrayal of these slightly OTT characters in the ultimate in parochial contests.

The opening night audience wasn’t huge, which was a shame. However, they were responsive and rightly so. This is a slick production of a very witty piece, well delivered and well supported technically and musically. Go see.

Vince Francis
April 2018

Photography courtesy of Hinchley Manor Operatic Society

From → Musicals, Reviews

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    Very much enjoyed reading this review. Made me disappointed that I’d missed the show.

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