The DULOG annual Gala show is a pretty big deal. You can tell from the glossy printed programmes, to the venue, to the ticket prices (slightly more expensive than most student productions but understandably so, and worth it, I’d say). Hello, Dolly! occupies a limbo space between obviously amateur productions and the West End, and I think it gets almost as close to the latter as possible. Which is why I was disappointed to see the circle so patchy in attendance – a student show of this budget and calibre should be sold out! But it did mean I could sit right in the middle, in a seat with a view.
As I said, the show teeters on feeling professional, but it frustratingly just doesn’t quite make it all the way. I can’t decide whether the problem is something I can pinpoint or not, there were no glaring faults, every element was done well and with care… but a show is more than the sum of its parts, I suppose.
Alexandra Hart and Jennifer Lafferty (with assistants Amelia Shelmerdine and Abby Greenhalgh) are clearly extremely talented and know how to put together such a grandiose show with such a large cast. Particularly their choices of when the whole ensemble should be on stage and when to let the main cast roam free were well made and I especially enjoyed the cast popping out from under the set to join in the singing. Directing such a big show is a feat in and of itself.
Florence Lunnon was amazing as the titular Dolly, I don’t think you’ll be hearing anything but the highest praise of her performance. She characterised the professionalism of the show: everything the show was aiming to be met in her performance.
In fact, both leading ladies (Lunnon and Isabel Askew as Irene Molloy) were the image of professionalism. The rest of the cast, though all brilliant actors, felt less at ease and characterisation could have been developed and perfected. I think nerves affected the cast overall, causing some minor mishaps in the first act. Mishaps are inevitable, but they inevitably break the illusion. It started with a coat sleeve facing the wrong way and then almost as a trickle-down effect, lines were misspoken in almost every subsequent scene. The actors all dealt with the mistakes well enough and it did fix itself, the second act was much slicker – the cast just took some time to find their confidence, but it came just in time for the main event of the show, ‘Hello, Dolly!’ (the song), which was by far the standout moment of the night.
Then there were the dancers, the stellar stars of the ensemble. I always welcomed the dance interludes, even if they stalled the narrative ever so slightly – they were just so darn entertaining! Daisy Allen and Hannah Lydon (and Emma Clarke, shadowing) choreographed dynamic and unique sequences that showcased the talents of the dancers. My one qualm, and this may just be a personal preference, is that I think the dances looked much better when everyone moved in unison, instead of when the choreography required different moves from everyone. I think for an amateur show where there is a variation in technical skill it is better to perfect simple and straight forward moves; overcomplication led to some parts looking messy rather than impressive.
I was thinking all the way through how perfect the costuming was, not just because it was (as far as I can tell) historically accurate (thanks to Tom Cain, the costume designing archaeologist), but also because of the sheer amount of variation (again the large budget is shining through). Dolly had, if I remember correctly, two major costume changes, and the dancers went off and returned in completely different get up a few times. It kept us on our toes, it kept up the pace, and it kept up the spectacle. The fact that Ellen Measor, part of the costume designing team, is from the Northern School of Arts does not surprise me at all.
I had high expectations and they were met. My qualms feel petty and nit-picky having written them down, I just wish I felt more magic, but all in all it was a brilliant show and a perfect night out to the theatre.
Featured Image: Durham University Light Opera Group