The So So Arts, tucked in away the heart of the city, hosts the return of The Dowager’s Oyster following its earlier season at the Arcola Theatre. This jazz operetta accommodates its audience and Jack Cherry (Librettist) and Louis Mander (Composer & Musical Director) present an exceedingly good team of cast and musicians predicting the story ahead. A 20s murder mystery farce provides occasional comic moments and its opening exposition begins with a promising outlook. As the story reveals crucial details, unfortunately it fails to retain the momentum instead, relying on farce for dramatic flair.
Dr Evadne Hinge is best known for the partnership with the late Dame Hilda Bracket. Taking a break from retirement, the famous drag returns to stage playing Lady Tindale – aka the Dowager. The idea is engaging: now her husband is dead and her son, married, she must accompany her daughter Cynthia (Katie Moral-Orchard) to France, where the latter waits for the return of her fiancée.
Nothing passes the Dowager’s sense of prediction. The advantage her daughter possesses with her forthcoming fortune, stirs her awareness of the dangers ahead. Freddy (Anthony Harris) however, away in Morocco with his ‘friend’, contemplates his intentions for Cynthia and how to escape his commitment without slander yet with much of her fortune. What could possibly go wrong?
As the second Act begins, the Dowager has swallowed a poisoned oyster and it’s now up to the local Officer to investigate.
Dr. Hinge on many occasions invites the laughter of many of her fans. She is an amusing character onstage, prolonging her stay as the unfortunate act of the Dowager’s murder does not keep her backstage. Hinge returns as the silent police constable, with a penchant for glittery glasses and attention to her notebook, her silent disposition attracts much attention.
Overall Hinge’s performance is amusing, fitting to her reputation. Although this reputation attracts the audience, collectively the whole cast are exceptional; rather than being the “star”, Hinge is one piece of this leading ensemble cast. Caroline Kennedy’s Genevieve and Morel-Orchard both surpass with their magnificent vocals and rightly so; Kennedy although playing a servant is given a platform to reveal her exceptional singing abilities.
With a very small stage to master, Anna Driftmier’s design is most suitable to this early 1900s tale. Encompassing most scenes, she adds juxtaposition between murder and a holiday resort but there is little room for the cast to manoeuvre. Without props, the space would enable the actors to roam freely instead of being constrained, something evident throughout.
Jack Cherry nonetheless, as director, makes the most of this production, using every advantage to work for every person involved. His efforts reflect the talent behind this production, taking an average story to the next level. Cherry uses this style to its best and right to the end, farce is used to its best potential reducing an act of murder to mimicry.
Collectively the team providing the music deserve much recognition. Iñigo Mikeleiz Berrade on the accordion and, particulary, Liz Faulkner on the double bass predict the changing atmosphere ahead; a remarkable jazz operetta.
This story about a widower being poisoned by an oyster, provides enough comical moments to make this a production entertaining enough to see. The cast fill the play with much energy, despite the monotonous prolongation. Maybe if the play began from the second act, it would outdo in the murder mystery genre. Overall the creative team and cast reflect an exceedingly put together production.