Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gang Show Guide

What makes children want to go on stage? Having watched my own brood going at it hammer and tongs in school plays and amateur dramatics, I have for years wondered what attracts them to the public gaze. Is it simply to have fun? Or stand out among their contemporaries? Or has the ‘self-consciousness gene’ yet to be expressed? Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011), who hated the limelight, reckoned it was a subconscious plea for parental approval.

Whatever the motives, stage exhibitionism has never been my thing. Sure, I took part in school shows, but confined myself to the shadows, either twiddling knobs on a 30-watt amp with a dodgy earth connection, or perched atop a rickety scaffold tower, operating a spotlight with a red-hot metal casing. Personal safety, be damned; I cared only that the smouldering spotlight was pointing at someone else.

My teenage daughter is a somewhat different animal. Specifically, if there is a chance that some on-stage antics could raise a laugh, she signs up without a second thought. Last month was a case in point. Previously, I had never been to a ‘Gang Show’ (Figure 40.1). For the equally uninitiated, this is a theatrical performance given by Scouts, Guides and an army of dedicated volunteers. They comprise not only the stage cast, but also choreographers, backstage assistants and pit musicians.

Figure 40.1: Promoting the show to the public

Copyright © 2012 West Wirral Gang Show

The original concept was the brainchild of Ralph Reader, CBE (1903-82), a British theatre producer and Rover Scout. Each show consists of short sketches, songs and dances, most with an element of comedy. The first took place in London almost eighty years ago. Since then, Gang Shows have featured in three Royal Command Performances and have spread to other countries, including Ireland, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

In West Wirral, near to my birthplace, in the northwest of England, the 14th Gang Show took place a few weeks ago, at the Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight (Figure 40.2). Opened in 1891 by Prime Minister William Gladstone MP, it has served as a concert venue ever since. Now the responsibility of Port Sunlight Village Trust, it has become a real gem – charming, well-maintained, with an audience capacity of 470. There is no foyer, incidentally; the front entrance door opens directly into the stalls.

Figure 40.2: The impressive Gladstone Theatre is situated in the model village of Port Sunlight, created by William Hesketh Lever for his Sunlight soap factory workers in 1888.

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

Auditions took place last year, six months prior to the (four) performances. Hundreds of aspiring singers, dancers and thespians crammed into St Andrew’s Church Hall, Meols (pronounced ‘Mells’) on Sunday, October 9th, and my daughter managed to win over the judges. From December onward, she would attend a weekly rehearsal (Figure 40.3), every Sunday afternoon, armed with a huge plastic box containing her props and costumes.

Figure 40.3: A typical weekly rehearsal, led by directors Pete Ledson, Liam O’Malley and musical director Peter Carter

Copyright © 2012 West Wirral Gang Show

Then, after spending four months learning her lines (and perfecting an exaggerated Scottish accent), the show opened on March 29th (Figure 40.4). The whole event was delightful from start to finish. If I were to choose two favourites, they would have to be, firstly, a manic rendition of the 1987 chart-topping song Star Trekkin’ (Across the Universe), my daughter as Scotty, exclaiming, right on cue, ‘Ye cannae change the laws of physics ... laws of physics ... laws of physics!’

Figure 40.4: 2012 Gang Show programme front cover

Copyright © 2012 West Wirral Gang Show

The masterstroke, though, was a group mime called Order of the Hood. To the sound of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, the cast, dressed in monks’ robes, faces hidden by their hoods, each held a large board bearing a different syllable of the chorus, and raised it whenever that syllable was sung. As the piece’s tempo is upbeat, boards were popping up and down at dizzying speed – but with perfect synchronicity. It brought the house down (Figures 40.5 and 40.6).

Figure 40.5: Only after the performance had ended did my daughter reveal that she was ‘HAL’.

Copyright unknown. Fair Dealing asserted.

Figure 40.6: West Wirral’s ‘Silent Monks’ rehearsing to the sound of Handel’s world-famous 1741 oratorio

Copyright © 2012 West Wirral Gang Show

Now, after so much commitment and hard work, the Gang Show is all over until 2014. In the eyes of my gloriously uninhibited daughter, life should be lived as if no one is looking. That’s ironic, my dear, given that hundreds of us were doing just that (Figure 40.7).

Beam yourself up, Scotty.

Figure 40.7: Worth every penny. Thanks and congratulations to everyone involved.

Copyright © 2012 West Wirral Gang Show

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

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