(2005) Bart Street

Real-life whodunnit

A Class Act: Bart Street, at New Greenham Arts, on Saturday, October 29

The 1970s remind me of joining a popmobility class at the Greenham air base. How well I remember pounding around the gym to the hits of the day in the firm belief that it was doing me good!

How strange it was to be back on the base for Bart Street - a story set to the music of the 70s, written by local man David Slade and performed by A Class Act, a theatre group of young and old who work so well together. Nearly all the adult cast had at least two parts and could switch from one to the other without batting an eyelid.

The story is based on the true events in Reading in 1929, when local tobacconist Arthur Oliver was killed, and there was little evidence for the police to gain a conviction.

David Slade had the extraordinary ability to envisage this event in 70s Newbury and set it to the music of the day.

The adult members of the cast burst on to the stage with a belting rendition of Blame it on the Boogie, with Wendy Orpwood as soloist. She was evidently comfortable singing, so it was no surprise that she sings with another group in Reading. Paul Wrightson followed with a very sinister solo of Killer On The Loose, his mask and the smokescreen setting the scene for the unfolding play. Paul is a brilliant rock singer, formerly with Arena, where he honed his acting skills and their album.

The story is based around Newbury's old Plaza, the tobacconists in the Arcade, and a travelling theatre group led by David Slade as drunken fading artist Drew.

A group of youngsters persuade one of their gang to try to pinch some cigarettes from the shop and he finds the owner badly injured. The youngsters run off, the police arrive and the old boy is taken off to hospital where he dies.

The talented young actors, aged from nine to 14, were confident and their song and dance routines were well-rehearsed and executed.

The third venue was a nightclub, where the adults performed some brilliant 70s numbers, including an Abba tribute by Wendy and Natasha Atkins, Brickhouse by David Slade, which was followed with a duet with Rosie Sinfield who has moved up to the adult group with ease. The rock numbers were performed by Paul Wrightson in one of his dual roles - Gerald, an aging rocker.

Newbury nick, the final venue, had Dennis Heath as the chief constable and his sidekicks Det Sup Chapman played by Paul Wrightson, DC Futcher (Mark Read of Kick FM fame) and Louise Embling in her first performance for A Class Act. Dennis was excellent as the bumbling chief constable and showed true professionalism with his convincing one-sided telephone conversations.

The murder investigation concluded that Drew was the murderer and he was convicted and tried. The locals and jury were unconvinced, and when he was released there was cause for celebration in the finale.

However, such is the skill of David Slade that as the troupe leave the stage, and the audience began to think of leaving, the identity of the killer is revealed - Gerald - going home with his nagging wife when he strangles her. A great way to end an exceptional performance.

GERRY THURGUT