Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Good Old Days (of music hall and variety) Assembly Hall Theatre Tunbridge Wells

The Good Old Days
(of music hall and variety)

Assembly Hall Theatre
Tunbridge Wells

Top of the the bill
Stu Francis

24 May 2011

With the TV series ending in 1983 I guess there surely aren't many folks under 40 who would now remember The Good Old Days?

Although I love variety acts for some reason I never particularly enjoyed the series. Perhaps it was more of a case that I had parents who always decided what we were going to watch and this was always on the viewing list?

Anyway we decided to see this show, not because of the acts featured, but purely because we have an elderly friend who we thought may enjoy this touring recreation of the iconic programme.

We didn't go expecting to enjoy this very much by way of show satisfaction. But 2 hours and 20 minutes later (excluding interval) we left the Assembly Hall pleasantly surprised.

In true Good Old Days tradition the show had the on-stage chairman overseeing proceedings. This honour fell to Mr Ian Moore who rather brilliantly acted as compere, crowd-warm-up, accompanying singer and patriotic flag waver.

Topping the bill was Crackerjack legend and comedian Stu Francis. How utterly refreshing to have a comedian who does 2 long presentations without doing a single piece of comedy I have heard other comedians do time and time again. With jokes and funny stories which are never offensive he covers everything from Saga Holidays to the British immigration policy. He's still like a hyperactive child, unable to stand still, and I thought he was hilarious.

My next favourite was Mark Walsh - the most entertaining ukulele player and singer I have encountered in theatre land. As with all the artists Mark did a stint both in the first and second halves of this show and in each case I really enjoyed watching his hugely impressive skill on his instrument. The speeds this guy can achieve on the small strings is phenomenal. I think a lot of the female audience members had a bit of a soft spot for his cheeky face and manner too.

Talking of charmers, Singer Mark Andrews, winner of the 2011 Encore Theatre Magazine "Best Family Producer", is not only a big part of this show but he produced this show under his Mark Andrews Productions company name. Celebrating his birthday on the day of this show Mark covered a number of 'easy listening' tracks to a great reception from what was a very large audience for this one-off matinee show.

That leaves just 2 acts. A female singer who sang Vera Lynn style hits. In fact she covered Vera's White Cliffs Of Dover. She was very good with a terrific voice, stage presence and vocal range so I apologise that I can't find her name for this article.

Finally the juggler. A lad that never dropped anything delivering a faultless double bill of throwing various combinations of 3 or 4 objects in the air and catching them again. The trouble is juggling can only keep you entertained for so long.... and this was too long... especially having to deliver 2 routines. Balls, bigger balls, clubs, glowing clubs, 'knives', rings and a 'thing on a string' and probably something I've forgotten. Very good but also very boring when all that's actually happening is one item is being substituted for another.

As a quick act juggling is fine but perhaps in the second half a quick magic act would have been a good alternative?

However, for a show we didn't particularly see for our own pleasure, we came away from The Good Old Days feeling entertained. With 2 huge milestone birthdays being celebrated in the audience by a 90 and a 100 year old for once I felt incredibly young in the packed auditorium. We may have been a tad younger than most but I think we enjoyed this as much as the rest of the crowd.

Oh and our elderly friend?............ she loved it!

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