Dark Horse Theatre, the company formerly known as Full Body and the Voice, runs an acting course for the learning disabled and stages productions in Huddersfield and on tour for casts also including non-learning disabled actors. Sing Something Simple is a fine example of putting together simple and disparate elements so skilfully that the play fuses into an amusing and moving whole.
Imagine trying to sell the idea to a would-be impresario. “There are lots of songs from the old radio programme Sing Something Simple and the cast dance or interact comically to them.” Or, “The story’s about this lad who’s always been second best to his brother and his brother comes back from music college and then goes away again.” Those make up quite a bit of the evening, an evening that again proves you can’t predict when the magic of theatre will strike.
The play, written by Dark Horse’s Artistic Director Vanessa Brooks, foregrounds Spencer Parkin who, in an oft-repeated slogan, “can’t sing”. His family is musical in the extreme: his brother Kit is at music college and no doubt about to seal a record deal; his mother is a jazz singer, not well-paid, but well respected; his friend and neighbour Bonnie is adept on violin, mandolin, ukulele and whatever else. Above all, his grandfather was an in-demand session singer and member of the Cliff Adams Singers on the long-running radio show Sing Something Simple. Spencer lives by granddad’s advice and granddad’s advice is mainly culled from old lyrics: not a bad idea, really! The play deals with Spencer’s dream of emerging centre-stage.
None of the above suggests the wit and precision of Vanessa Brooks’ production. Alwyne Taylor shows off gracefully as the elegantly draped mother who is prepared to bring out her vocal exercises at the ping of a tuning fork and seizes her moment well in her one big number. Richard Maxted (Kit) and Heather Dutton (Bonnie) both play off Spencer beautifully – and Spencer himself is the excellent Joe Sproule, graduate of the Dark Horse course. He does far more than gain the audience’s sympathy for the overlooked sibling, filling the part with a sense of mischief and understated self-parody (which, in fact, runs through the whole production) and gleefully insisting on audience involvement!
Pip Leckenby’s costumes create character (and character changes) effectively and her simple staging is a suitable setting for Mic Pool’s delightfully witty projections.
After further dates in the South of England Sing Something Simple returns to Yorkshire with three performances at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (3-4 April).