We weren’t quite sure what to expect from ATW’s latest offering at The Institute. Billed as a Variety Show – was it the anticipated cabaret of all the old sketches to celebrate their 40th anniversary? –certainly the rather thin Friday audience was seated in cabaret style
Well we certainly got variety! I counted 18 separate turns put together by director Jamie Cox, whose energy and effort in pulling this all together in just four weeks in our time-poor life was a remarkable achievement.
As ever with such a mix we had some great hits and some serious misses, with a lot of the new stuff let down by poor scripts, and surprisingly for ATW, a complete lack of topicality and local colour. The evening was held together by the wonderful Gary Leonardi as our MC and stand-up comic, but even he struggled to get the laughs, and on Friday was bailed out by the lugubrious Justin O’Toole coming out of the audience to tell the lovely balloon joke.
And the 40th anniversary celebrations only took up about a quarter of the evening. Gayna Lee gave us a very clever verse about many of the highlights from over the years, and referred to her contemporaries as ‘relics from a bygone age’. Well the relics gave us a major share of the enjoyment of the evening. The timeless Elaine Bryant and Wendy Gardner as incompatible ballerinas, then in a lovely Cissie and Ada sketch, and then rather poignantly being auditioned – and rejected – by a fierce Ashley Dwyer as they performed (along with Karen Dwyer) only too short snippets of The Pheasant Plucker, Bunch of Coconuts and the Good Ship Lollipop
The stars of the new sketches were Becky Cheeseman and Su English as the outrageous hosts of the kids’ TV show It’s Colour Time, being pilloried by two brilliantly non-PC puppets. Another hit was a very good Line of Duty style drama with Linda Leslie being compromised by two bent coppers (Ashley Dwyer and Becky Cheeseman) – very thought-provoking
ATW’s great musical reputation was upheld with Karen Dwyer’s lovely version of Both Sides Now and when she was joined by director Jamie Cox in a very powerful version of Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up – all this work and he’s got a great voice too!
So a mixed bag, but the cast of 17 (only two blokes – come on lads!) sent us away in good spirits with a vibrantly-dressed chorus line and a great Don’t Stop Me Now finale – I don’t think anyone will, with this amount of effort and energy!