Forty-year old ‘forgotten’ musicals are tough to revive but the Keith Waterhouse/Willis Hall script and Tony Hatch score come up fresh and alive in Norfolk Youth Theatre’s enterprising and imaginative production of The Card.
With the luxury of a 25-strong unafraid and well-focused cast and a fine saxophone-led band, it tells the story of Denry Machin, an ambitious youngster in the mould of Waterhouse’s own Billy Liar who rises to fame and fortune in his small Potteries town through wily charm and steely determination.
Fraser Davidson makes Denry’s journey a confident arc of discovery from schoolboy to prosperous businessman, and carries the songs with a well-supported light tenor and naturalistic performance. Edward Bartram is every bit as promising as his best mate Parsloe, Jess Davidson pulls off the complex role of machinating Ruth Earp with class, and Charley Nicol shows great comic potential as Denry’s washerwoman mother whose sardonic commentary punctuates most of the scenes.
Although amateur, all the voices are free from the karaoke desperation of teenage singers and have been well-coached in musical theatre delivery by director Adrian Connell. In the ensemble numbers the sound is strong and well-blended, and the diction excellent. The many scene changes are slickly accomplished and the show moves at a great pace.
There are two versions of this musical, and whereas this one benefits from some sharpened lyrics from Betty Blue Eyes’ Anthony Drewe, the music’s a touch repetitive and the best songs from the original have been excised. That said, this production is a credit to the company and further consolidates their Edinburgh reputation.