Monday, February 27, 2023

DOWNTOWN: The Mod Musical


Jess Zdanowicz - Sarah Hull - Kirsten Smith - Hannah Lance 
in "Downtown"

Directed by Anita Davenport – Musical Direction by Tara Davidson

Costume Design by Helen McIntyre – Set Design by Steve Galinic

Lighting Design by Jacob Aquilina – Sound Design by Katniss Stellar

 Presented by Queanbeyan Players. Belconnen Community Theatre until 5th March.

Opening night performance on 24th February reviewed by Bill Stephens

Essentially an all singing, all dancing revue built around songs popular in England during the decade between 1960 and 1970, “Downtown: The Mod Musical” is given a colourful, entertaining production by Queanbeyan Players.

To give the songs context the show has a through-line concerning the lives of five young women navigating the 1960’s era when women were demanding more control over their lives. In the show each of the soloists is identified only by the colour of her costume, rather than by name.

Therefore Kay Liddiard plays Red Girl; Hannah Lance is Green Girl; Emily Pogson is Blue Girl, Alexandra McLaughlin is Orange Girl; and Sarah Hull is Yellow Girl. All except Yellow Girl are meant to be British, Yellow Girl having revealed in her opening monologue that she has travelled from America just to see Paul McCartney. Green Girl was the only one among the four British women to attempt any sort of English accent.

Alexandra McLaughlin (Orange) - Kay Liddiard (Red) - Emily Pogson (Blue) - Hannah Lance (Green) - Sarah Hull (Yellow) in "Downtown"

The women relate their stories through a succession of songs popular during the era. The songs are interrupted by short monologues, or interludes during which the women request and receive advice on matters affecting their lives from columnist, Gwendolyn Holmes (Tina Meir) who works for a fictional magazine “Shout”, to which each of the women subscribe.

Gwendolyn delivers her advice via a disembodied voiceover and that advice provides a good deal of the humour for the show. It also provides the opportunities for comment on the changing attitudes of the times.

In addition to the lead characters, director Anita Davenport has added a chorus of five additional women, Hannah Miller, Carly Carter, Jess Zdanowicz, Kirsten Smith and Anna Tully, who shadow each of the principal characters and are costumed in individual black and white costumes.

Choreographer, Laurenzy Chapman has taken advantage of the extra numbers to create a succession of clever, well-drilled production numbers based on the popular dance moves of the era. Reminiscent in style to the popular television shows of the period, these routines are performed with commendable energy and precision by the whole cast. Elsewhere director, Davenport displays a flair for arranging the cast to form attractive stage pictures throughout.  

Steve Galinec’s colourful abstract setting provides the perfect ambience for the show, enhanced as it is by Jacob Aquilina’s equally colourful lighting design, while Helen McIntyre’s beautifully detailed costumes echo Carnaby Street fashion.

The sound on opening night was somewhat erratic, allowing Tara Davidson’s hardworking trio to occasionally become almost inaudible, which possibly accounted for the uncertainty of some of the singing.

Although the lovely harmonies achieved by the full ensemble were spot on, some of the songs chosen for the soloists were beyond their talents, resulting in some off pitch singing and forced lyrics.

However, given that the soloists were attempting to emanate the performances of songs indelibly engraved into the audience’s collective consciousness by singers of the ilk of Petula Clarke, Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black, this was easy to forgive.

These blemishes aside, if you’re a sucker for the songs of the sixties, this is the show for you.

                                                 Images by Sarah Abramowski

                       This review first published in CITY NEWS on 25th February 2023