Our lives have been so disrupted by Covid over the past eighteen months that it’s sometimes difficult to remember what life was like before.
And it seems a lifetime since the Sedlescombe Players’ last major musical production, Jesus Christ Superstar, completed its run less than two weeks before the first lockdown. There have doubtless been times when we wondered if this sort of show would ever return.
So it gives me immense pleasure to report that the Players are back, and bigger and better than ever, with their powerhouse production of The Sound of Music in Sedlescombe Village Hall. Surely one of the most beloved musicals of the twentieth century, bringing the story to the village stage must have seemed a Herculean task.
And director Tara Buchanan has once again risen to the challenge magnificently. Tara casts her net far and wide when looking for talent to appear in her productions, without fear or favour, and her company of actors and singers reached a standard rarely seen outside professional productions.
From the very start, a simple but effective and skilfully lit set told us we were in for a treat. Trained opera singer Adele Stockdale proved a powerful Mother Abbess, confident in her authority yet visibly compassionate and backed up by a convincing complement of nuns. Alice Creasey, in her second major Sedlescombe role and still only 20, was an absolute tour de force as Maria: wilful yet innocent and driven by sheer love of life to question her calling. The use of video to portray her journey from the Abbey to the von Trapp home was inspired.
A production like this stands or falls on the performance of its younger actors. “Never work with children or animals”, they say; but the quality of the von Trapp children was consistently outstanding. It would be both impossible and unfair to single out individual performances, the singing and dancing from all of them was tuneful, skilful and wholly believable. The audience clearly fell in love with them all and cheered their individual and ensemble numbers to the rafters.
Steve Corke cut a fine figure as Captain von Trapp, a disciplinarian struggling to maintain a previous life which tragedy and circumstance have rendered impossible. A strong supporting cast vividly evoked the decline of tradition in the face of political upheaval; particularly impressive was David Sismore as a deliciously cynical Max Detweiler, a skilful impresario with a keen sense of self-preservation. Nick Higginson also deserves applause for his inimitably villainous Herr Zeller, leather greatcoat, scowl and all.
The band, led as usual by multi-talented musical director Daniel Goodger, played impeccably throughout and the rhythm of the show never faltered. Almost every song in the show is instantly recognisable – and I write this as someone who has never watched the film all the way through – and both players and singers did full justice to each number. A special mention is due to set designer Alan Smytherman in what is likely to be his swan song contribution. Alan can create a scene and atmosphere out of seemingly thin air and the seamless set changes took us from abbey to mansion and back again with the minimum of fuss.
It’s sometimes easy to overlook the hours and hours of patient rehearsal and sheer hard work which go into amateur productions such as this. This isn’t done for financial reward or national renown but for the pure enjoyment of creating and performing a first class show from scratch.
Tara and her whole team are to be heartily congratulated on providing a terrific evening’s entertainment and for sending this reviewer home with the conviction that after a great deal of disruption and heartache, life really is beginning to return to normal. As long as there are productions like this, there are blue skies ahead for all of us.