A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart

Based on the plays of Plautus (who still deserves a credit line...!)

Directed by Guy Saunders

August 13th - 16th, 2003

The Tower Theatre performing at the Little Wood Open-Air Theatre, Hampstead Garden Suburb


Cast List

Pseudolus, slave to Hero : Daniel Watson
Senex, an old man : Brice Pitt
Domina, his wife : Alison Hopwood
Hero, their son, in love with Philia : Dominic Ward
Philia, a virgin : Julia Main
Hysterium, slave to Senex and Domina : Frank Crocker
Miles Gloriosus, a warrior : Bob Bradick
Lycus, a buyer and seller of courtesans : Colin Dent
Erronius, an old man : Henry Chester
The Proteans : Chris Peregrine, James Folan, Gateley Freeman

The Courtesans
Tintinabula : Helen Jeckells
Vibrata : Helen Kirrane
Gymnasia : Emily Powell
Panacea : Nathalie Lake

The Geminae : Margaret Ley, Pat Grosse
Eunuch : Alistair Brinkley
Roman Matrons : Claire Rice, Alison Liney

Joe Hatherill, Andrew Potts, Andrew Stewart (Reeds)
Matthew Grocutt (Trumpet)
Richard Hyams (Trombone)
Christine Clutton (Cello)
Stephen Lethbridge, Susana Castellot (Keyboards)
Gareth Covey-Crump (Bass Guitar)
Ian Whitehead (Percussion)
Clive Swan (Conductor)


Production Team

Director : Guy Saunders
Assistant Director : Pat Grosse
Musical Director : Clive Swan
Choreographer : Helen "Bells" Dudley
Set Design : Dorothy Wright
Costume Design : Noreen Spall, Kay Perversi
Lighting Design : Andy Peregrine
Sound Design : Stephen Ley, Phillip Ley

Stage Manager : Juliet Webster
ASMs : Alison Liney, Claire Rice, Terry Baker-Self, Tracey Henshaw
Lighting operator : Laurence Tuerk
Sound operators : Stephen Ley, Phillip Ley
Set construction : Dorothy Wright, Zizi Sulkin, Keith Syrett, Alan Wilkinson, Celia Reynolds, Simon Bullock

In-house review by Richard Pedersen for "Noises Off"

Richard is an occasional Tower actor who for his sins is also the Tower Theatre's Health and Safety Officer.

When Titus Maccius Plautus was writing his comedies in republican Rome, he surely cannot have imagined that over two millennia later a group of actors in Britannia would be performing a musical play based on his works. Nevertheless, despite the language problems, I'm sure that he would have thoroughly enjoyed the Tower's production of at the Little Wood Theatre, directed by Guy Saunders and Pat Grosse. As the opening number informed us, we were there to see "a comedy tonight" and a wonderfully funny show it turned out to be. The proximity of the audience to the actors certainly helped to create a marvellous atmosphere, aided and abetted by the charming sylvan setting.

Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart used a number of Plautus' works as their source for the script, but the key play must have been Pseudolus, and the character of this scheming slave provides the focus of the action. As Pseudolus, Daniel Watson was a delight to watch, and he very cleverly avoided any temptation to mimic Frankie Howerd. He got the audience on his side from the very beginning of the evening, as our confidant for the Prologue and unflaggingly kept up the frenetic pace until the end. His fellow slave, Hysterium, rivalled him in the laughter stakes and was excellently performed by Frank Crocker. When he was attired in drag for much of the second half, the elderly lady sitting next to me could barely contain her laughter. I'm still not quite sure, however, why the actor chose (or was told) to put a yellow duster on his head when heading for the shops with a superbly anachronistic wheeled basket.

The master and mistress of the two slaves were nicely portrayed by Brice Pitt and Alison Hopwood respectively, and I found it interesting that the playwrights stuck to their classical roots in calling them no more than Senex (Old Man) and Domina (Lady) (I knew my classical education would come in useful one day). Both were in fine voice, and Mr Pitt impressed me by his nimble footwork. Next-door-neighbours of the family - and I found the use of the classical "three-door" convention fascinating - were, on one side Colin Dent as Lycus the brothel keeper, and on the other, Henry Chester as the befuddled Erronius. Both gave us lovely comic turns, the one storming disgruntledly on and off the stage unable to interest customers in his merchandise, and the other schlepping his weary way around the Seven Hills of Rome.

The humour was completed by the three superb "Proteans", who came into their own as the gormless foot soldiers to Miles Gloriosus. Chris Peregrine, Gately Freeman and James Folan were a well-matched trio whose well-drilled slapstick never failed to raise a laugh.

Young love was represented by Hero and Philia, competently played by Dominic Ward and Julia Main. I thought that Ms Main was possibly just a bit flat in the role of the virginal Cretan, and I would have liked to have seen a few more radiant smiles to justify her description of herself as "lovely". Bob Bradick was the ebullient Miles Gloriosus, the stock Roman character of the boastful soldier, and made the most of a rather under-written part. Oddly, for a musical of this vintage, there was no chorus, barring the opening and closing numbers and the rather sombre funeral sequence. The ladies of the chorus were also the motley collection of courtesans, resident in Lycus' establishment. These were all non-speaking roles, and none of the actresses had very much to play with, but I felt that with a bit more direction they could have made more of the scant material. I must single out, however, Helen Jeckells' tour de force as the dancer Tintinabula, who gave us a stunning solo number. Her companions in this Roman bordello were new members Nathalie Lake and Helen Kirrane as the delightfully-named Panacea and Vibrata, Emily Powell as a Madonna-busted Gymnasia, and the intriguingly-cast Margaret Ley and Pat Grosse as very identical twins.

The set, designed by Dorothy Wright was necessarily uncluttered for a Minack transfer. I was impressed by the flaming amphorae outside Lycus' house and was aware that certain odd stagings, such as Philia up a stepladder, were merely a pale reflection of what could eventually be achieved on the Cornish cliff side.

I found it interesting that, when the show was filmed in 1966, the producers decided to cut the majority of Stephen Sondheim's songs. In a way I can understand why. I'm sure at the time it seemed like a good idea to intersperse the Broadway comedy with musical numbers, but I wasn't bowled over by any of them. I felt sometimes like looking at my watch and hoping they would get to the final chorus. It's not that the singing was poor or the choreography inept, it was just that many of the musical interludes seemed rather pointless.

Unfortunately the comic chase in the second half didn't work for me. I'm not sure what was amiss, but the entire cast seemed to be running furiously on and off the stage for what seemed like an age, but to no great dramatic purpose. I also couldn't help but be conscious of the fact that the doughty actors would need to replicate this chase on the cliff-side at Minack, which I imagine might cause problems. But I mustn't be ungenerous; the show went down a storm, and I'm certain that the Minack crowds will have loved every minute of it. The production looked superb, thanks in no small part to Noreen Spall's fine array of 3rd century BC chitons and togas (where does she find them?). Technical problems, of which there were a few, are only to be expected when playing away from home in an unfamiliar setting. One final quibble; I did rather object to paying £1 for what was little more than a cast list, and I did wonder what non-members in the audience would have made of this.