Our lives have been so turned upside down by Covid over the past eighteen months that it is sometimes difficult to remember what life was like before.
And it seems like an eternity since the Sedlescombe Players’ last major musical production, Jesus Christ Superstar, finished its run less than two weeks before the first lockdown. There have undoubtedly been times when we wondered if this kind of show would ever return.
So it’s a great pleasure for me to announce that The Players are back, bigger and better than ever, with their powerful production of The Sound of Music at Sedlescombe Village Hall. Undoubtedly one of the most beloved musicals of the twentieth century, bringing history to the village stage must have seemed like a Herculean task.
And director Tara Buchanan once again rose to the challenge with flying colors. Tara casts her net everywhere when she seeks talent to appear in her productions, without fear or favor, and her company of actors and singers has reached a level rarely seen outside of professional productions.
From the start, a simple yet effective and expertly enlightened ensemble told us we were going to have a blast. Trained opera singer Adele Stockdale has proven to be a powerful mother Abbess, confident in her authority but visibly compassionate and supported by a compelling workforce of nuns. Alice Creasey, in her second major role at Sedlescombe and only 20, was an absolute tour de force as Maria: willful but innocent and driven by the sheer love of life to question her calling. The use of video to describe his journey from the abbey to the von Trapp house was inspired.
A production like this relies or falls on the performance of its young actors. “Never work with children or animals,” they say; but the quality of the von Trapp children was always exceptional. It would be both impossible and unfair to distinguish the individual performances, the song and dance of each of them were melodious, skillful and entirely believable. The audience clearly fell in love with them and applauded their individual and ensemble acts.
Steve Corke performed well as Captain von Trapp, a disciplinarian struggling to hold onto a past life that tragedy and circumstances made impossible. A strong distribution of support vividly evoked the decline of tradition in the face of political upheaval; Particularly impressive was David Sismore as the delightfully cynical Max Detweiler, a skillful impresario with a strong sense of self-preservation. Nick Higginson also deserves a round of applause for his inimitable villainous Herr Zeller, leather condom, scowl and all.
The band, led as usual by multi-talented music director Daniel Goodger, performed impeccably and the pace of the show never faltered. Almost every song in the series is instantly recognizable – and I’m writing this as someone who never watched the movie until the end – and the players and singers have done every number full justice. Special mention is due to set designer Alan Smytherman in what will likely be his contribution to swan song. Alan can create a scene and atmosphere from scratch and the seamless changes of scenery took us from the abbey to the mansion and back again with minimal fuss.
It is sometimes easy to forget the hours and hours of patient rehearsal and hard work that go into amateur productions like this. This is not done for financial reward or national fame, but for the sheer pleasure of creating and presenting a first class show from scratch.
Tara and her entire team are to be heartily congratulated for providing a great evening of entertainment and for sending this review home with the belief that after a lot of disruption and heartache, life is really starting to return to normal. As long as there are productions like this, there will be a blue sky in front of us all.