I’m shown to my seat in the Charing Cross Theatre by a very helpful usher. I have the option to put my coat on the coat rack onstage. The actors/ushers rush about for five minutes or so before the show begins. There is a flurry of excitement. But I know from the title of Kouban Production’s Ushers that the actors selling programmes ARE the show.
The ushers burst into song, faces illuminated by their torches. The opening number, ‘Welcome’, takes us through the realities of a West End Musical about to start. The trials and tribulations of a theatre worker are sketched out before us in all their glory. Bold, unapologetic and superbly camp are the clear characteristics of this fresh, new piece.
The action takes us through a working night at the theatre for the ushers, led by their supervisor. Ralph Bogard plays the horrendously inappropriate Manager of the theatre, Robin. “Customer Experience Maker” training videos punctuate the scenes and songs. Although exaggerated and hilarious, these videos seem very familiar for anyone who has worked for a big corporation!
Bogard sashays around the other actors, portraying (proudly) the boss that you’d “rather be on the dole” than work for. His physicality, voice and general delivery are full throttle. I especially appreciate his split leap jete exit in Act 1. His employees, the ushers,let us into their lives. The usual subjects emerge. A relationship in danger, a relationship about to start, and then there are the actors trying to make sense of their challenging career choice – all whilst serving ice creams and making sure they hit their “Spend Per Head” target.
Ceris Hine’s Rosie is a masterpiece of comedy. I eagerly anticipate her re-entry, as every time, she has us all in stitches with her ridiculousness. We see Lucy, played by Carly Thoms, join her new workplace. Nervous and unsure of the job, and of how much she should reveal about her family, all is revealed at the end of the piece. Thomas’s solo is sensitively gifted to us with her beautiful tone. Yiannis Koutsakos’s ‘Dreams and Icecreams’ is a delightful breath of fresh air amidst the more vibrant numbers.
Ross McNeill’s Stephen is the object of Lucy’s affection. They ping together like magnets over boxes of Britney Spears merchandise, and we see their hearts flutter. McNeill’s solo, ‘The Parts I Could Play’, tells us of the turmoil faced by an attractive actor, being judged purely by his looks. We see him frolic around the stage embodying the various, more interesting characters he wants to play with wonderful vitality and presence.
A hard reality is shown between Ben (Liam Ross – Mills) and Gary (Daniel Buckley). Gary is about to leave to join a theatre company in Vienna, leaving his boyfriend Ben behind. The actors are truthful and genuine in their search for answers to their ‘Half-finished Story’.
Musical numbers led by Lee Freemman, and choreography by Russell Smith and Gemma Fuller, are in keeping with the exhilarating, camp as Christmas theme. The members of cast hit each mark and move with gusto. The structure of video – scene – solo is consistent, to the point where we know what is coming next. However, the strong personality of this new musical means it can be forgiven for its predictability.
As anyone in the performing industry understands, the desire to perform has a counterpart that manifests itself in the ludicrous reality of what is actually available. This is illustrated in the gross, but hysterical hyperbole that makes this musical such a hit. We all need to laugh sometimes. Even if it is at our own expense. Catch this quick before you take yourself too seriously.
Ushers is at the Charing Cross Theatre until 19 April. For more information, visit the Charing Cross Theatre’s website.