(2007) Azure (Blue) How Do You Feel?

Reviews of Azure (Blue) How Do You Feel?

27th to 30th June 2007.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Director steps in to keep show on road

Azure Blue, at New Greenham Arts, from Wednesday, June 27 to Saturday, June 30

It must be a director's worst nightmare, having two cast members drop out of a production a week before the performance, but that's exactly what happened to A Class Act's staging of Azure Blue at New Greenham Arts last week.

This placed tremendous pressure on the replacement actors, but in true showbiz tradition the 'show had to go on' and director and writer David Slade also took on the leading role and young George Collins played the part of Bill. As the programme note explained, it was 'hoped that this would not spoil the enjoyment of the show'.

Azure Blue is a musical comedy, set in gangland London. Vernon Hayes is the gang leader who gambles away his shop in Walthamstow during a game of poker with two elderly homosexuals, played by Dennis Heath and Johnny Gibbs. They are stereotypical camp hairstylists, who convert the shop into a salon. Unbeknown to them there is a secret safe containing Vernon's blue diamonds hidden somewhere in the shop.

Everyone seems to be 'on the make' including a gang of streetwise teenagers who have set up a lucrative car parking racket. Vernon employs a local florist, nicely characterised by Donna Smith, who acts as a narrator, to keep an eye on what's going on. Vernon is determined to get his diamonds back and enlists the help of a feisty lawyer (Gemma Stamp) and his henchman, strongly played by Beth Gibbons.

There were some hilarious comic moments with the rather 'simple' Danny (Peter Richings) who had a very bad personal hygiene problem. Steve Proud was the hapless Alfie Clarke, who gets caught in stairs when they collapse, and Helen Bazin was the unfortunate Tramp, who eventually finds the diamonds, so the play has a happy ending for some.

The music was a mix of 70s songs, sung to backing tracks, which didn't really help to develop the action in what was rather a lacklustre production.

ROBIN STRAPP

 

This synopsis was provided by author and director David Slade, who disagrees with the interpretation in the Newbury Weekly News review above.

Vernon Hayes, a nasty piece of work by anyone’s standards and one of East London’s most notorious crime bosses, has just lost one of his businesses on the turn of a card to Monty and Gordon, two elderly queens. Was he drunk? Surely he didn’t mean this to happen? Unfortunately this particular business interest was one of his key establishments; it appeared to operate as a clothes shop, but was a front for many of his scams. Vernon, for instance, would allow many of his workers and tenants to pawn their belongings in the shop; they never had much hope of ever getting their things back. (Not until now, that is.) And there was also something very special in the shop, something that Vernon couldn’t lose at any cost.

Alfie Clarke, a chancer and wannabe villain, knows this, and thinks that he and his late best mate’s son Danny can enter the shop steal what they like, because now it is under the ownership of two gay old men, they won’t stand a chance against them. Alfie, as usual, is ill informed, most of the jobs he tries to pull never come off to his benefit, but he feels that it is his time and a holiday in the sun awaits him, Danny and his wife Adrianna.

Adrianna on the other hand is not so sure about his ability and when she knows it is Vernon Hayes’ old shop that he his setting his sights on she has mixed feelings. Deep down however, she is only interested in herself and whether she is going to get a holiday but she also needs to know that whatever he gets up to he must pick the kids up from school later that day, because she is about to spend the afternoon in “Manuel’s on the Kings Road”, a hairdressing salon, having her once a week fix with a new creation done by Felix, “the” stylist. Here Adrianna meets up with her neighbour Rachel and her daughter Sarah, who Adrianna thinks is soft on Danny.

Manuel’s is owned by Manuel, a very camp, but actually very straight hairdresser of old; Felix the stylist, on the other hand, is a true Londoner who pretends to be gay and French. Felix and Manuel are both elderly men but as Felix is the younger he is considered the new boy in the salon and so he offers to create a special style for Adrianna. It all goes wrong and she ends up with a blue rinse that is impossible to get rid of.

Vernon Hayes takes on a new solicitor to get his shop back, all to no avail and so he decides to take direct action; meanwhile Alfie and Danny have barged into the shop, sent the customers packing and started to tie Monty and Gordon the new shop owners up.

Meanwhile, Howells, a runner for Vernon Hayes, has her eye on all this from her flower stall, pitched in the street near the shop. She has met up with a group of local youths who have their own criminal racket running; she asks them to look after her stall while she goes off to tell Vernon what has occurred, but they have also seen Alfie and Danny enter the shop and have decided to go and investigate. Once at the shop though, it isn’t long before Vernon shows up and sends them all packing. But before they go they find a bag of what appear to be diamonds in an open safe in a skip behind the shop.

The youths claim the rights to the diamonds and Vernon doesn’t know they have them, Alfie who knows the diamonds are somewhere in the shop falls through the rotten floor and breaks his leg, whilst looking for the diamonds; he’s stuck fast, and Vernon enters. Danny can’t help, as he has managed to get tied up with Monty and Gordon, but he gets untied by Carly Vernon’s PA but does a runner, back to “Manuel’s on the Kings Road”.

The youths, who still have the diamonds, return to the flower stall only to find a tramp who claims the diamonds are hers.

Does Vernon get his diamonds back? Does Adrianna get her holiday? What will the state of her hair be though? Will Alfie get out of the hole in time to pick up the kids? It’s a bad day all round but respect counts for nothing unless you have the right backing. Alfie Clarke seems to have it and Vernon just might want that more than his diamonds.

From an independent reviewer.

I have seen various Class Act productions over the last few years and Azure Blue was similar to those other performances. This time though they had to replace two members of the cast in the week of the show, which is a very hard thing to pull off. Dave Slade, the director and writer, stepped into the lead role of Vernon Hayes and George Collins the role of Barry. A note in the programme hoped ‘it would not detract from the enjoyment of the show’ and much credit should go to both as it did not.

The show started with a rendition of Who Knew? by the younger members of the cast lead by Beth Slade. This was well sung but the initial impact lost its shine by the repetitive choreography and going on too long. All the songs in the show were performed to backing tracks which means the quality of the music is very good but does have a slight soulless feel compared to live music. Imaginative choreography and stage direction would help to distract from the backing tracks and bring the story and cast to life much more.

The story of the show now unfolds and we are brought to an underground poker game where Vernon Hayes, the local gangster, loses his shop to a gay couple, Monty and Gordon, after disregarding the advice of his lieutenant, Carly. His shop turns out to be a stash for ‘goods of a questionable nature’ under the guise of a pawn shop. Vernon also has left his precious Blue diamonds in a ‘broken’ safe at the shop. So the race is on to regain the diamonds before the ‘poofters’, as Vernon says, find them.

The main of the story line is narrated by Howell, a flower seller, who keeps her ear to the ground and relays any local information back to Vernon. This keeps the story going and made a good link for all the different scenes. This was a good character and well performed but a little of the story was lost by the heavy London accent.

The other characters are now introduced to us in ‘Alfie’s Front Room’. Alfie is a failed local criminal and everyone knows it except him! His long suffering wife, Adrianna, and Danny, his rather smelly sidekick, try and keep him out of trouble but to no avail. Alfie get a ‘whiff’ of the blue diamonds in Vernon ex-shop and decides this is his chance at the big time and so comes up with a master plan of getting the diamonds whilst Vernon is out the picture.

Meanwhile Carly introduces Anthea, the posh solicitor, to Vernon in an attempt to get his shop back the right way but he finds it hard to take advice from a woman and carries on with his own shop retrieval method, threats and violence. So intent on his own problems his ignores his girlfriend Verna’s advances and aspirations as a singer.

Various other characters are introduced to us: tramp, club singers, bouncers and - a love interest for ‘fragrant’ Danny - Sarah. These characters fill out the story rather than enhance it apart from the tramp which features in the final scene.

The race for the diamonds is scuppered by Monty and Gordon who unsuspectingly throw out the old safe containing the diamonds only to be found by the kids. They take the diamonds but dump them when they get spooked. They are then found by the tramp who claims they were hers all along. Finally she rejoins her long lost family, Alfie at al and whisks them off for a well earned ‘Oliday’ of a life time.

The script for the show was entertaining and well written although perhaps to many slang terms for gay men for my liking by the Vernon character. The Hairdressing scenes, although funny, were a little bit confusing as the Felix and Manuel characters, played by the same actors as Monty and Gordon, also appeared gay. This led to many of the audience assuming they were the same people in the story. A synopsis of the storyline in the programme may have helped the audience to follow they story more easily and this also would have relieved the pressure on the Narrator character. Overall the scenery was sparse but did help to set the scene of most of the major action. The flower stall on the side of the stage was used well to move the focus away as the main stage was changing. The skip scenery at the front the stage looked great but was only used for one main scene and perhaps was a little distracting for the rest of the show. There were some nice singing performances by most of the performers. Some of the songs could have been used to cover scene changes rather than have static freezes behind them and this would have helped to move the show along rather than wait for scene changes afterwards. Also integrating more of the songs into the story as opposed stopping the action for the song would help immensely. I did enjoy Perfect Day with backing singers and the predicament of the singer stuck in the floor. This was clever and novel. Sound and lighting were of a good standard throughout.

The end of the show was a bit of a leap and the connection between the tramp and the rest of the family was a bit hard to grasp but we all like happy endings and so can be forgiven. Overall all the parts were well acted and believable.

In summary a funny and well acted script, that with some attention to the integration of the music and choreography would add some extra polish to raise it up to great evening's entertainment!

Dave Slade – Vernon Hayes
Well acted and believable. Worked well with the other characters. Interesting song choice for a hard man, Don’t Rain on My Parade. For having to jump in at the last minute, a good job.

Steve Prout - Alfie Clarke
Cast and acted well. Worked well with the ‘Danny’ character. Liked the Perfect Day song and the backing singers. Perhaps the song could have been cut a bit before it lost its novelty.

Dennis Heath - Monty/Felix
Johnny Gibbs - Gordon/Manuel

Nice characterization and rapport between Monty and Gordon. The song I Can’t Smile Without You was a classic and worked very well. If anything perhaps these characters could have been a bit bigger or over the top à la Quentin Crisp! The alternate characters of the hair-dressers were a bit confusing and would have worked better as different people.

Ria Powell - Verna/Georgie/Singer
A smaller part but played well and for a first public singing performance with Diamonds Are Forever very well done.

Natasha Kendall - Adrianna/Singer/Bernie
Good character for Adrianna and interplay with the other women and Alfie. I think the song Killing Me Softly would have worked better being integrated into Adrianna's part somehow rather than as the singer character. Perhaps as a parody rather than a straight interpretation, as a foil to Alfie. In a similar vein to Perfect Day song.

Gemma Stamp - Anthea
Well acted and gave a good impression at what a struggle it must have been to get respect from a sexist thug like Vernon!

Beth Gibbons - Carly
A lady side kick to London Crime Boss! It took me a couple of scenes to get used to it but it was very well done and by the end of the first half I was convinced. Very good job and not overplayed on the ‘Hard as nails’ side and had a lot of subtlety.

Helen - Tramp/Lana
Again, a smaller part, which the audience did not get much background for out of the script. Perhaps this character could have been introduced right at the start of the show with some connection to the diamonds as a teaser to what happens at the end.

Wendy Orpwood – Rachel
Big hair and big voice. Both songs, There’s a Guy Down the Chip Shop and In These Shoes, sung very well and good stage presence. Nice interplay and ribbing of daughter and Danny Character.

Darian Caswell - Sarah
Played well but the character never really got involved in the story.

Donna Smith - Howell
Character was well played and cast well. A lovable rogue that was eager to please the boss. Kept the story going well. As mentioned above just watch out on the accent and speed of delivery so the audience can keep up with what is going on.

Peter Richings - Danny
Again a nice character and well presented. As a character, more could have been made of the on/off, are they/aren’t they relationship with ‘Sarah’. This would have helped to bring the Sarah character much more into the action.

Chris Kendall - Russell/Singer
A small part that didn’t appear much but was shouted at a lot by Vernon. The song Forever in Blue Jeans was performed well but out of context with scenes before and after.

Bethany Slade - Angel
A lively character who opened the show with Who Knew?. This was sung very well. The song was a bit long and could have done with a nice routine to really set it of. Also a smile for all the characters in the song would have made a big difference.

Aylesha Bottglearie - Larry
George Collins - Barry
Jessica Hunt - Joey
Loella Wilson - Tish
All the kids' gangs parts were well delivered and depicted they right type of characters. Barry’s character was a very laid back one which at the start was a bit disconcerting but it actually work well as a contrast to the other streetwise kids in the gang. So, well done.

STUART HONEY