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Sister Act Review

This is one of the great modern classical musicals that almost every society is eventually likely to tackle and Bedford Marianettes are certainly one society that can muster the resources to do this very well indeed. And that is exactly what they did with a large energetic cast.

The plot, for those unfamiliar with the film or show, centres around nightclub singer, Deloris Van Cartier who accidentally witnesses her gangster boyfriend, Curtis Shank shoot somebody suspected of informing on the gang to the police. She runs away to a police station where Desk Chief, Eddie, whom Delores knows as ‘Sweaty Eddie’ from their schooldays together, and who has always had a crush on her, decides to hide her out in the local nunnery, where the Mother Superior runs a strict regimented regime which is definitely not to Deloris’ liking. Her one saving grace being able to teach the appallingly out of tune choir how to sing. However, as the choir becomes more high-profile Delores secret hideaway is put at risk of discovery.

The stage of the studio theatre at the Trinity Arts Centre is fairly sizable and thus they are able to accommodate both band and the action on the same space. In this case the nine-piece band (or what looked more like a small orchestra) was spread across the upstage rear separating them from the remainder of the stage by low level boarding, so they remained in full sight throughout, which surprisingly worked very well indeed and didn’t detract from the action going on in front of them.  Initially, directly in front of the band were two trucks of flats on wheels with only the rear blank backs visible to the audience. As the scenes progressed these were then spun around to reveal the sets required for the action; a nightclub, an American police station scene, where anyone arrested was stood up against a height ruler and photographed, the inside of the convent with a stained-glass window on each of the two exposed flats, Very neat! Furniture was simple benches and tables for the nunnery’s dining room or the choir practice.  All very quick and simple to keep the action flowing and worked extremely smoothly in the hands of experienced stage manager Steve Ward.

Lighting by Lloyd Gray was very well done, his positioning and washes certainly helped keep the visibility between the action and the band separate. Sound in the Trinity Arts Centre Studio has always been a bugbear of mine, but, fingers crossed, hats off to Simon Barker who certainly for this show at least achieved an extremely good balance and my aging ears had little problem in picking up on either lyrics or dialogue. Alleluia! Long may it continue!

Our very professional band whom you really couldn’t fault, under the Musical Direction of Ben Robinson and very competently conducted by Leigh Smith, consisted of Ed Jones (Keys I), Andrew Longland-Meech (Keys II), Chris Pettitt (Reed I), Sue Pettitt (Reed II), Chas Hutchings (Trumpet), Liz Schofield (Trombone), Danny Barton (Guitar), Colin Woolmer (Bass) and Dan Wild (Drums). Nice job guys!

Choreography by Christopher Duncombe-Cooper, was quite cleverly thought out and consisted of mainly hand and body movements since nuns in long habits were never going to be conducive to high kicks. That said, the ladies did manage one or two of them as well.

The first thing to say about the action in this show is that it was extremely well drilled, and the pace positively cracked along. Director Rosie Layton had certainly put in the hard work to get the best out of her cast with some very inspired direction.

Our star of the show Rachel Smith as Deloris Van Cartier has real stage presence and commanded every scene she was in with confidence and authority. Quite a feat when you learn she only stepped in to fill the role one month from opening night.  And quite a singing voice to back it up.  Chris Craigen as the love sick Eddie was a much more gentle soul as it played it as a bit of a doormat for Deloris, rarely expressing anger,  just exasperation as he repeatedly tries to persuade her to lay low.  Elspeth Duffy as Mother Superior was perfectly authoritarian as she too exasperatedly tries to lay down the law and bring Deloris into line. And what a voice to go with it! Amply demonstrated with a super rendition of ‘Here Within These Walls’ and in the harmony with Deloris, ‘Spread The Love Around.’

Charlotte Pearson as Sister Mary Lazarus, Bex Badham as Sister Mary Patrick and Rachel Clifford as the postulant Sister Mary Roberts were the very amusing trio who befriended and looked after Deloris, often pointing out the pitfalls of her impetuous actions.  Great fun!

Kevin Long was the evil gangster Curtis, with a motley crew of villains to back him up in the form of Stephen Duncombe-Cooper, Adam Ledger and Rachel Spavins. Not sure this lot would scare too many people, especially with that gun, but they could certainly sing and dance.

Other characters included Victoria Heath as Tina, Megan Prosser as Michelle and Rob Greenhough as Monsignor O’Hara. And then we come to the chorus of sisters who lifted the show every time they came on: Julie Davenport, Kirsty Dilly, Becca Poutney, Flo Rowntree, Caroline Sepede, Elisabeth Thorne, Sue McKeating, Esther Walking-Lee, Shannon Wilmot, Beth Evans, Josh Heard and Charlie Hammond-Smith.

So, well done to Rosie Layton and her cast and crew, a thoroughly enjoyable evenings entertainment, there is a reason you are in the top echelons of musical theatre in Bedfordshire.  

Richard Fitt, NODA

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