- Brilliant reception for 1920s masterpiece in a chilled
- MR CINDERS AT SOUTHWOLD
- MR CINDERS. Book and lyrics by Clifford Grey and Greatrex
Newman. Music by Vivian Ellis and Richard Myers, with additional
lyrics by Leo Robin. Presented on July 10th 2000 at Southwold
Summer Theatre by Jill Freud and Company.
- Cast: Richard Emerson (Jim Lancaster), Celia White (Jill
Kemp), Jill Freud (Lady Lancaster), Stephen Hancock (Sir George
Lancaster), Michael Chance (Lumley Lancaster), Richard Stirling
(Guy Lancaster), Sarah Redmond (Minerva Kemp), Sidi Scott (Donna
Lucia), Paul Hegarty (Henry Kemp), Simon Snashall (Charles Wilde/PC
Merks), Gary Bates (Bunny Hayes/Smith), Sonia Murray (Phyllis
Patterson), Louise Milford (Cynthia Boyce), Rachael Smyth (Enid
Director: Anthony Falkingham. Musical director: Derek Scott.
Choreographer: Sidi Scott.
Howes and Binnie Hale matching up in the original production
of Mr Cinders
Musicals have long been welcome plums in the Southwold Summer
Theatre pudding. Among the small shows mounted by Jill Freud's
extraordinary repertory company we have had Salad Days and The
Boy Friend and - my own favourite among them - a quite superb
production in 1985 of Oh! My Papa! adapted by its director Michael
Richmond, the action transposed to 'a golden afternoon in Edwardian
Southwold' . Richmond's new book and lyrics unmasked a show of
pure delight, with a haunting score that makes one wish a recording
company had taken up the Bristol Old Vic production of 1957 that,
all too briefly, went into London.
Now, at the top of their new season, the company presented
the ever charming Mr Cinders, and scored no less than a triumph
in Anthony Falkingham's faultless staging. If the review that
follows seems dull it is only that a description of so much excellence
can only grow tiresome. The show itself - with its brilliant
inversion of the Cinderella story - has not become weary. There
were moments in this production when the two leads suggested
how potent a mix the original Bobby Howes and Binnie Hale must
have been at the Adelphi Theatre in 1929, and how Howes must
have shone with a script that knew exactly how to exert his highly
- Today, that script - by Clifford Grey and Greatrex Newman
- is as hilarious as it was over seventy years ago. There is
also the string of Vivian Ellis and Richard Myers melodies, none
of which are less than highly professional, and most of which
are entrancing. Fortunately, we have a few recordings from the
1929 production that suggest what a corker the occasion was,
and how bewitching the combination of Howes and Hale could be.
Here, the most well-known of its numbers, the bitter-sweet 'Spread
a Little Happiness', was given to Binnie Hale, and it was Hale's
recording of the song that became a classic of the gramophone.
For the 1983 revival (as in the Southwold production) the song
was given to Jim, with Jill having to make do with a reprise
at the first-act curtain.
- The King's Head, Islington production of 1983 went on (with
some recasting) to another successful run at the Fortune Theatre
in 1983, when Denis Lawson played Howes's role of the luckless
Jim (Mr Cinders), the put-upon son of the Lancasters. I didn't
much care for his performance, although it was much praised at
the time, or for his leading lady at the Fortune, Christina Matthews.
But at Southwold, the crucial role of Mr Cinders is taken by
Richard Emerson, and the comedy and pathos are in safe hands
here. Bearing a sometimes frightening resemblance to Peter Brough's
schoolboy dummy Archie Andrews, Emerson comes on looking frail
but resilient and from his first entrance seizes the part and
doesn't let go. His skilful comedy playing invited the audience's
sympathy (for the old jokes as well as the sadness that glimmers
through the play) and was rewarded by a house that responded
to every nuance. If this was a joyful occasion, the young Mr
Emerson was one of the main causes. He had opposite him a resourceful
Jill in Celia White who perfectly caught the spirit of the piece.
- The assurance of the production was evident in every department.
Sidi Scott's miracle of choreography had been polished and finished
to a remarkable degree, and the musical direction of Derek Scott,
utterly unassuming but rock-solid (and enhanced by some first-class
clip-tracks for some of the numbers), brought much enjoyment.
Among the other performances, one remembers with especial pleasure
the Donna Lucia of Sidi Scott, monumental in black mantilla,
and her comedy scene with Richard Emerson, a model of timing.
Sarah Redmond's leggy, school-prefect confident portrayal of
the coloratura-straining Minerva Kemp was another of the evening's
great pleasures among a cast that had no weak link; indeed, it
was the sense of ensemble enjoyment that came across from the
- Important torch-bearer
- Behind this success lurks a little theatrical wonder that,
at over seventy years of age, still has the freshness of youth
about it. Happily the show has resisted too much tinkering, although
a brief rendition of 'She's My Lovely' (originally sung by Howes
in the revue Hide and Seek) is worked in as a solo for Henry
Kemp. And a song for the leading lady, 'Please M r Cinders' was
added by Ellis and Newman in 1983 for the West End transfer.
It is as inconsequential as anything here, and just as delightful.
The combination of deep feeling and easy wit is never more obvious
than in the captivating 'I've Got You', beautifully done in this
production in a scene that tears at our hearts. Listening to
so many of the other songs, the feeling grows stronger that the
fine lyricists of the period have been so overlooked. Where is
the modern lyricist that could come up with anything as clever
as 'On the Amazon'? - here are lyrics that take the listener's
intelligence for granted. And the joy of hearing love songs that
make one laugh out loud is one seemingly lost on the writers
of today. A combination of wit and feeling has become too rare.
- For many in Southwold, safe from the chill of the July night
outside, this would have been their first experience of a British
musical. At the final curtain, Jill Freud told the audience that
the company had never experienced a reception like the one we
gave them at that last performance. Happiness had indeed been
spread that night, and we took the joy of the show out into the
streets, a world made lighter by knowing it had happened.
- Perhaps now there is a hope that the company might consider
a revival of that wonderful Oh! My Papa! Perhaps, too, we should
be looking to Southwold as an important torch-bearer for the
future appreciation of the British musical.
- About MR CINDERS
Did you know that?
- Vivian Ellis wrote 'Spread a Little Happiness' when he was
in bed with a temperature of 103 degrees
- 'Spread a Little Happiness' was originally written for a
show called The Flower Princess. The show didn't materialise
- When Denis Lawson left the London revival of 1983, his place
as Mr Cinders was taken first by Lonnie Donnegan and then by
- Vivian Ellis said ' Only twice in my career have I read the
book of a musical and been certain of its ultimate success. The
first occasion was Mr Cinders and the last was Bless the Bride.'
- Mr Cinders was the only British score to which the composer
Richard Myers contributed
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