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College Days Still Shine Brightly
Masks of comedy and tragedy
Amateur Dramatics: Alive and well in Cheltenham
Last updated: 24 March 2005 1841 GMT
lineSimon Lewis reviews Tomfoolery - a recent production by The Ad Hoc Theatre Company at The Playhouse in Cheltenham.
(March 2005)
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Bloodstained prosthetics at ten paces, glitzy jackets and some of the cleverest material ever written, the songs of genteel American satirist Tom Lehrer lived again in this brisk production by one of Cheltenham's newer theatre troupes.

quote Some of the cleverest material ever written...quote
Simon Lewis

Ad Hoc's fond tribute to Mr. Lehrer's incisive jibes at the world around him, especially at such revered United States institutions as the army, the Ivy League, folk songs and animal husbandry, began with his irreverent homage to the Scout movement, Be Prepared, a singularly appropriate choice, following the cancellation of the opening night performance, when a touch of laryngitis forced baritone Allan Gillespie's eleventh hour withdrawal.

Exceptional talent

But nil desperandum: nature and exceptional talent abhor a vacuum and having regrouped around the piano, played by silver-fingered virtuoso Jackie Adams, Paul Scott's versatile troubadours came out fighting, having fashioned some hasty revisions to cover Gillie's absence and put aficionados of Mr. Lehrer in seventh heaven.

quote This was an uproariously amusing opportunity to discover what you've been missing all these years...quote
Simon Lewis

For unenlightened souls who may not be familiar with the Harvard University mathematician's lyrical subtleties and caustic wit, this was an uproariously amusing opportunity to discover what you've been missing all these years, as well realise that it is perfectly possible to amuse an audience without resorting to sexual crudities or relentless swearing.

Erudite odes

Some will argue that Mr. Lehrer's erudite odes have become like champagne that has lost its sparkle, and that the topicality of his songs has long exceeded its sell-by date, especially in the decidedly un-PC National Brotherhood Week.

Well, maybe, but intelligent humour is evergreen, and in the hands of the cognoscenti, a splendid evening's entertainment celebrating genius of the first order is guaranteed.

Inspired

Like the bright college days that inspired many of Lehrer's compositions, Tomfoolery is best viewed as one would regard one's own years at the alma mater: still glorious long after they have receded into history. Songs like New Maths, Silent E, Pollution and So Long, Mom should nonetheless strike chords with more recent generations.

With their contingency plan firmly in place, Ad Hoc amply demonstrated their credentials in a whistlestop tour of around two dozen of Lehrer's greatest hits.

Dancing skills

Crystal-voiced Jon Dyer was the principal log on this blazing fire, while better half Sarah, when not serenading us with her soaring soprano tones, showcased her awesome dancing skills in the unforgettable Masochism Tango, the hilarious Wienerschnitzel Waltz, as well as bringing some Latin glamour to In Old Mexico.

quote Paul Scott's deadpan delivery, which has all but become his trademark, crowned the evening...quote
Simon Lewis

Images of a sleazy Berlin night club were evoked by Judi Allan's deliciously seductive rendition of Wernher von Braun, while Paul Scott's deadpan delivery, which has all but become his trademark, crowned the evening in the excruciatingly funny I Hold Your Hand In Mine, as white-coated Jon Dyer hovered and crooned dangerously behind.

Spicy

The ensemble work was equally spicy, most notably in the enthrallingly subversive Vatican Rag, and We Will All Go Together When We Go, Lehrer's doom-laden anthem to a nuclear holocaust which finally rang down the curtain on this nostalgic farrago, at which point the discerning audience, who had endured the severest difficulty in resisting the temptation to join in, began clamouring for the songs which didn't find their way into Cameron Mackintosh's final anthology.

A man down they may have been, but, as the phrase has it, the show must go on, and thank goodness this one did.

Tomfoolery was performed by The Ad Hoc Theatre Company at The Playhouse in Cheltenham, 16th - 19th March 2005.

Review by Simon Lewis

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This article is user-generated content (i.e. external contribution) expressing a personal opinion, not the views of BBC Gloucestershire.

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