The New Theatre’s first play for their 2014 season, Peter Nichol’s and Denis King’s ‘Privates on Parade’ is not only a great Mardi Gras choice that offers a piece of gay history in a romping musical satire of post WWII British army entertainers in the fragile environs of Singapore but it also conveys such a sense of joy in performance by a cast who are having a thoroughly good time that it has easily transferred that pleasure into the audience, who are having just as much fun.
Director Alice Livingstone has smartly utilised some of her cast as pre-show entertainment out in the foyer and the steps of the theatre as they regale us with their lady-boy antics and lovely vocals and choreography that they set the mood for the rest of the show. We’re won over before the actual show even starts.
It then takes a slight dip as some cast struggle a little with broad accent work and therefore the clarity of vocals is not always ensured but the dips return to highs when some of the outstanding members of the cast are given their moments to steal the spotlight or own the stage. James Lee as Acting Captain Terri Dennis is the perfect example of this. Not only is Lee an accomplished vocalist who oozes confidence and diva on stage but he relishes every moment in role and is not afraid to show vulnerability either. David Hooley’s Private Stephen Flowers is the most real of roles and Hooley finds the balance in belief, naivety and ambition and can still pump out a tune and a box step like a pro when needed. Diana Perini (Sylvia Morgan) holds her own in a cast of men and manages to work that stage with great finesse and Peter Eyers as Major Giles Flack was an engaging portrayal of every misguided yet harmless Major in British comedy all rolled into one. ‘Privates on Parade’ takes the stereotype, adds music, song, dance (and a shower scene…hello sailor…), comedy and costume and then gives it just a little more flesh to give meat to the scenario. It is ‘It Ain't Half Hot Mum’ taken up a notch.
‘Privates on Parade’ is not without flaws but it is a tightly choreographed and directed ensemble piece and its flaws actually give it flavour and charm and they are minor in a Major show (I amuse myself with my own witticisms sometimes). It has an ending that feels like there’s another episode to come but it does not detract from the pleasure of performance.
Allan Walpole’s set has allowed for plenty of movement in the cast but he has created a wonderful world of possibilities that echo the makeshift world of our characters and their situation and Famke Visser’s costumes touch on the military and naughty school boy so that should keep everyone happy. Kudos also to a great live band hidden away that add to the colour of this show. John Short has produced a great little musical team that’s as tight as Livingstone’s direction. Another shout out to choreographer Trent Kidd for his work in ‘Privates on Parade’ as it adds to the polish of the whole performance.
This could easily have been a tacky hambone thrust out for Mardi Gras but Livingstone and her team have earned their stripes on this show. There’s plenty to see (I have alluded to the shower scene and here it is again) and the joy of the show is contagious. You can’t help but reflect the smiles of the cast and it’s backed up with plenty of talent so if you needed an excuse to get to the theatre, this is as good as any.