By Philip Evans
AXMINSTER Musical Theatre have never been frightened to take on a challenge. A glance at their previous productions bears witness to this: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, ‘The Fully Monty’, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, ‘Made in Dagenham’. They have all entertained Axminster audiences in recent years – and all received critical acclaim.
I doubt, however, whether they have staged many shows more challenging than ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’, staged recently at the Guildhall. Not only because it’s not a blockbuster with musical numbers that immediately spring to mind, but because the whole show depends on the comedic talents of the two main characters.
But not every amateur society can call on the talents of Tucker Scott-Stevens and Billy Matthews. In a long career of covering amateur shows, I can’t remember a production in which two characters have produced such outstanding performances. For a moment I thought I was watching a West End show.
‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ was a 1988 American comedy film starring Steve Martin, Michael Caine and Glenne Headly, a remake of the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven film ‘Bedtime Story’, and was later remade in 2019 as ‘The Hustle’, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson.
It tells the story of two con men competing to swindle an heiress out of $50,000. The action takes place on the French Riviera.
Tucker Scott-Stevens, a former professional actor, played the part of the sophisticated, suave ex-con-man Lawrence Jameson. Having trained professionally, he has appeared in roles as diverse as Shakespeare to pantomime, as well as parts in television shows such as ‘Eastenders’ and ‘London’s Burning’.
The role of Lawrence Jameson might well have been written for him and one imagines he had to use all those skills honed on the professional stage to provide local audiences with such a high standard. Simply brilliant.
Playing alongside him as the rookie con man, the brash newcomer on the block Freddy Benson, was Billy Matthews who looked every inch the professional and brought down the house with his crazy antics on stage. A perfect foil for Jameson’s prince alter-ego.
I have watched Billy Matthews’ career on the local stage since he was a youngster but this was by far his most accomplished performance. He and Tucker must have had so much fun in these parts and that sense of frivolity was transferred across the footlights in no small measure.
They were backed by a hugely talented cast, led by Vanessa Loader, who has featured on the Axminster stage for more than four decades, in the role of socialite Muriel Eubanks. This was another performance in which Vanessa’s energy levels exceeded the richter-scale.
Silvey Webber played the role of American soap queen Christine Colgate with her usual level of sassiness, and featured in the musical highlight of the show, a duet with Billy Matthews – ‘Nothing Is Too Wonderful’.
Harvey Causley has emerged in recent years as a natural and his role of the chief of police was played with a almost Clouseau-esque influence.
The experienced Nick Lawrence returned to his role as director alongside choreographer Rachel Worsley and musical director Joseph Binmore, and I suspect they had as much fun as the cast!
Cast: Silvey Webber (Christine Colgate), Tucker Scott-Stevens (Lawrence Jameson), Billy Matthews (Freddy Benson), Harvey Causley (Andre Thibault), Vanessa Loader (Muriel Ewbanks), Robin Brakstad (Jolene Oakes), Dan Wilde (Hotel Manager), Steve Egan (Bell Boy), David Adams (Waiter), Susie Gamble, Robin Brakstad, Silvey Webber, Jasmine Hussey, Caitlin Jackson and Emily Smith (Maids), Emily Smith (Leonore), Tracey Wakeling (Sophia), Silvey Webber (Josephine), Jasmine Hussey (Marie), Robin Brakstad (Collette), Susie Gamble (Usherette), Karen Hussey (Renee), Jerry Holt (Gerard), Val Cullimore (Hortense), Barry Marshall (Nikos), Caitlin Jackson (Helene), Tina Woodhall (Claudette), Brian Cursley (Claud), Roland Kelly and Adam Chudley (Sailors). Nuns of Abbey Beaumont sur Mer, Citizens of Okes, Oklahoma, Sailors, Godspellers, Railway Staff, Gendarmes, Detectives, Tea Dancers, Greek Millionaires and others played by members of the cast.
Orchestra under the direction of Joseph Binmore: Steve Grant (Reed1), Kate Grant (Reed 2), Josh Westrip (Trumpet), Christopher Holland (Trombone), Glyn Rattenbury (Kit), Steve Douglas (Percussion), Fraser Morgan (Guitar), Pete Mansfield (Bass Guitar), Cathy Binmore (Keyboard 1), Ian Crew (Keyboard 2).
Production team: Jack Price (Production Manager), Adam Chudley assisted by Dennis Freeth, Ann Long, Roland Kelly and Kris Brakstad (Stage Manager), Stuart Courtman and Sue Close (Front of House), Roland Kelly and Sue Kelly (Set Design and Construction), Ian Whilden (Lighting), Seventh Wave Audio (Sound), Brian Cursley (Properties), Sue Kelly and Roland Kelly (Wardrobe), Jasmine Hussey and helpers (Hair and Make Up), Joseph Binmore (Rehearsal Pianist), Emily Appleton of South West Photography (Production Photographer), Rose Harvey (Programme), Helma Belbin (Programme Advertisements), The Archway Bookshop, Open Door Internet and Friends of AMT (Ticket Sales and Box Office), Footeprints (Printing), Pam Cridge (Floral Arrangements), Helma Belbin (Raffle and Ice Cream Sales), Members and Friends of Axminster Musical Theatre (Stewards, Programmes and Raffle Sellers), Rose Harvey, Robin Brakstad and Jasmine Hussey (Publicity), Ian Crew (Editorial for Advertising).