views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

One Touch of Venus
Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
10th February 2013

★★★★☆

With the miserable British weather against us, and a large procession slowly making its way down Hoe Street, getting to Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre wasn't easy, but we were determined to see One Touch of Venus. As seemed to be most of North London, given the absolutely packed full house seeking divine intervention. Luckily for all of us, with All Star Productions' performance, we found it.

Even before the show, portents were good. The music is by frequent Brecht collaborator and all-round musical genius Kurt Weill, lyrics by pun-master poet Ogden Nash and book by sometime Marx Brothers collaborator SJ Perelman and Nash. You may not have heard of this musical (it largely dropped off the radar for about 50 years after its 1948 film) but it's certainly one with a wealth of talent behind it.

In brief, wealthy art collector Savory (James Wolstenholme) acquires a statue of Venus which, when touched by ordinary Joe Public barber Rodney (David Jay Douglas), comes to life in the form of a sassy Greek goddess (Kendra McMillan). To everyone's surprise, the beautiful Venus falls for Rodney rather than Savory, causing a few complications, given Rodney is already engaged to the ear-splittingly disapproving Gloria (Lauren Osborn). Ring any bells? Yup, it's essentially 1987 cheesefest Mannequin, but done right about 45 years earlier.

Supported by an ensemble of eight, the main cast brings plenty of laughs, with Savory bouncing off his secretary Molly (Danielle Morris). Venus and Rodney have a fun dynamic, reminiscent of a Hepburn and Grant screwball comedy, but clearly with Nash and Perelman's inventive wordplay front-and-centre. Every comedy needs to have a few sombre moments, but on the whole, it's guaranteed to lift the spirits.

Both director Lydia Milman Schmidt and choreographer Rhiannon Faith have the challenging and unenviable task of fitting all these individuals into a relatively small space. Faith gets them to express themselves in perfect synchronisation with large open movements, without the stage ever feeling cramped. And as for the set itself, the design is not only visually appealing, but rather clever in nature. We won't spoil the surprises, but Sarah June Mills certainly uses the space for maximum impact and humour.

It's a joy to once again hear Aaron Clingham on the piano, having been introduced to his work by the much loved Blue Elephant Theatre. Clingham never gets a note wrong and fills every score with emotion. There's something rather timeless about musical theatre involving completely live, stripped down music - it's all about raw talent exposed, there's nothing for the performers to hide behind. Not that they need any help here - the cast for their part sing beautifully, with Rodney and Venus' duet Speak Low a wonderful highlight.

As far as the performance goes, there's very little to criticise. If anything lets it down, it's the writing itself. At two and a half hours, the running time doesn't sound overlong, but there is a bit of flab in the first half which could easily be trimmed without taking anything away from the simple plot. As clever as Nash and Perelman are, they are nothing if not prone to self-indulgence.

But that is a minor criticism, with One Touch of Venus remaining a light-hearted classic that is still hugely entertaining today, in no small part down to the company and the energy and talent they have brought to the piece. This is the first time we've ventured to Walthamstow, but with All Star Productions in residence there, we're sure we'll be back soon.

One Touch of Venus ran from 5th to 22nd February 2013 at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Walthamstow Centre (Victoria)



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