This review is of an earlier Manchester tour date in 2009. Some supporting cast details may have changed.
Even after 25 years together as double-act Lip Service; Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding continue to challenge expectations of what can be achieved by such a small theatre company.
Their latest production Desperate to be Doris tells the tale of platonic friends Dean (guest artist Darren Southworth) and Joy (Fox) whose daily work routine is disrupted by new boss Candida (Ryding). Worse is yet to come as Candida begins to apply her management techniques to the local amateur operatic society’s production of Calamity Jane, thereby threatening also their social lives.
To complain that the plot is thin and the characters two-dimensional would be to completely miss the point. As the the aim of this warm-hearted production is to give the audience a great deal of fun, sending them home far happier than when they arrived and it certainly achieves that, constantly.
As always with Lip Service much of the humour is drawn from letting the audience in on the jokes that come from so few actors playing so many different characters – Fox and Ryding play more than four apiece. Humour arises also from the combination of high production values with gloriously amateur props. The sleek, charcoal grey office set by Richard Foxton contrasts with toy buses, action man figures and stuffed dogs.
The play uses the songs of Doris Day sparingly and so conveys their upbeat spirit but avoids the stifling effect that often comes from presenting a tribute show/juke box musical.
Although all of the cast sing well, the best vocal performance is by Southworth who has excellent range and great phrasing. Considering that the songs were written for the higher voice of a woman, he delivers them with soul. Lip Service have supplemented their cast in the past, but this time they do so in style with the addition a full community choir under the direction of Jules Gibb.
The involvement of the choir adds greatly to the evening. As well as beefing up the scale of the songs, they make the audience more willing to take part thus ensuring that the vital sing-along spirit is secured.
This expanded cast does, however, present a real challenge for director Mark Whitelaw. He copes by ensuring that the choir play a full, rather than token role in the producton by having them also play dancing daffodils and skateboarding nuns!
The effect is completely infectious as it all looks so much fun that you wish you were onstage whip-cracking away with the cast.
Other than the title, there is nothing desperate about this fine show. Another winner from this creative comedy duo.