The audience’s excitement, their trepidation, their desperate prayers for “please, God, no audience participation” – from the first monologue, The Drowsy Chaperone knew what its audience was thinking, and liked to remind us of that fact. St Hilda’s rose to the challenge of this unusually self-referential play, producing a show that was lively and enjoyable, and often subverted our expectations.
While there were some rough edges to the production, St Hilda’s by and large assembled a talented cast. Catherine De Luca was fascinating and endearing as Woman in Chair, the show’s narrator. De Luca rose to the challenge of this isolated but high energy role, connecting with the audience from the first moment. Her performance was dexterous, providing countless laughs but building to reveal a troubled emotional core.
Ryan McAllery and Jacob Kaye formed a delightful comedy duo as Robert Martin and George respectively; their dance routines and dialogue bounced off one other with confidence and skill. McAllery deserves particular mention for managing to perform a whole musical number while blindfolded and on rollerblades – and an emotional, romantic musical number at that. Perhaps more impressively, Ruby Tucker as Janet Van de Graff was able to convincingly play the love-struck bride opposite this ridiculous spectacle. Tucker was also a particular vocal talent, hitting even the highest notes and providing quiet magnetism during all her numbers. The Chaperone, played by Michaela Jones, was another vocal stand out. After repeated issues with her microphone, most of her numbers were left unamplified, but ultimately unaffected – Jones was not only pitch perfect, but strong enough to be heard without a microphone over a live band (at least, for those in the front rows).
There were some in the cast, however, who didn’t manage the same comedic ease as the show’s leads. Katherine Clark and Victor Sun, as Mrs. Tottendale and Underling respectively, lacked the dynamism needed for their comic roles, and Jack Day as Mr. Feldzieg seemed uncomfortable on stage, which often made the audience uncomfortable in turn. The chorus could have benefited from some more discipline and direction in vocal numbers, but they kept the energy high and reminded the audience that after all, we were there to have fun.
There were some issues with the band mistiming cues, particularly with the narrator’s interruptions and ‘pausing’ of the musical. Whilst it would undoubtedly be difficult to get the music in sync with De Luca pressing play on a record player, given how central this conceit was to the production, the slip-ups became increasingly noticeable and frustrating.
As a play, The Drowsy Chaperone was thoughtful, progressive and hilarious; a strange mix that left the audience open to moments of social criticism. The show began with a disclaimer that all depictions of cultural stereotypes were intended as satire, and it’s a good thing it did. When the second act opened with a musical number asking “what is it about Asians, that fascinates Caucasians?” it was good to know that it wasn’t just being played for laughs. Complete with silk kimonos and one actor sporting a bald cap, a fake beard and a very disturbing accent, the number was a brief but effective satire of what passed as politically and socially appropriate in the 1920s. Like with much of The Drowsy Chaperone’s social commentary, it wasn’t in-depth, but it was striking.
Overall, St Hilda’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone was an entertaining and enjoyable evening, for both the audience and the cast. At times it may have lacked finesse but the energy remained high and with several talented performers at the fore, the show’s message about the joy and community of theatre shone through.
St Hilda’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone ran from September 2nd-3rd in the Union Theatre.