Love Rides the Rails or Will the Mail Train Run Tonight?

Presented by Adelaide Repertory Theatre Society
Reviewed Friday 19th November 2010

Venue: ARTS Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: Sat 20 at 8pm, Wed 24 at 6.30pm, Thurs 25 & Fri 26 at 8pm, Sat 27 at 2pm and 8pm
Duration: 2hrs incl interval
Tickets: adult $20.50/conc $15.50
Bookings: 8212 5777 or BASS 131 241 or or email [email protected]

The cast for this production was something of a Who’s Who of the Adelaide amateur theatre scene. The host of ever-popular performers together have several centuries of experience and countless thousands of performances to their credit. Director, Pam O’Grady, simply couldn’t go wrong with a cast like this and a successful production was a cast iron guarantee. With Barry Hill as Musical Director, playing keyboards and assisted by drummer, Rowan Dennis, the musical side of the production was also assured. Bluey Byrne’s set design and Laraine Wheeler’s lighting design, with Leanna Lockwood’s wardrobe work, made sure that the production looked as just good as the performances.

The Widow Hopewell and her pretty daughter, Prudence, rely on the payments from their shares in the Walker Valley, Pine Bush & Pacific Railroad, which holds the mail franchise, in order to pay the mortgage on their home.

The dastardly Simon Darkway wants to take over the railway in order to get the right-of-way to bring his own Middletown and Rocky Mountain Railroad through. He also happens to own the bank that holds the Hopewell’s mortgage. He is aided and abetted in his nefarious deeds by his henchman, Dirk Smeath, and by the woman that loves him, Carlotta Cortez. The franchise will be lost and his schemes will come to fruit if the train fails to make its mail run on time, and so he concocts a web of schemes to stop it.

Our hero, the railroad superintendent, Truman Pendennis, and his solidly reliable friend, Harold Standfast, stand between Darkway and his goal. Truman and Prudence are in love, but the wicked Darkway also wants her as part of his prize and so he plots to discredit Truman with the aid of Carlotta.

The melodrama was a Victorian favourite but this one was written by Morland Cary much more recently, around the mid twentieth century, I believe. It does, however, conform to the formulaic approach to the genre; with the villain, the heroine and the hero, plus the build up of the villain’s plots and their eventual collapse at the hands of the hero. The dialogue is not actually that funny and it is left to the director and cast to turn it into something worthwhile. With this group of old hands, that was no difficulty at all. Add the audience booing and hissing the villain, cheering the hero and heroine, and shouting out warnings and advice to the characters, and this made for a real crowd pleaser.

As well as the play itself there is a Master of Ceremonies, Christopher Daw, and several musical or comic interludes during scene changes, so there is plenty to hold the attention of the audience. Most of these interludes are by members of the cast but there is also a rare guest appearance by Loriel Smart that drew enormous applause. Ian Rigney and Richard Lane took us back to hard times past with a fine rendition of the Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen hit from 1932, Underneath the Arches, and Lindy LeCornu and Lane presented the extremely silly and very funny ‘balloon dance’. Sue Wylie and Daw presented an hilarious mind-reading act that is beyond definition, which she then followed up with a look back to the Roaring 20s for the song Chlo-e (Song of the Swamp), which was all followed by immense applause.

There is good work from the entire cast, with loads of energy and enthusiasm, but the three younger members of the cast show their unfamiliarity with the conventions of melodrama by failing to pause for the cheering and booing, so some of their dialogue was lost. Hopefully this will be quickly corrected.

Julie Quick gave her Widow Hopewell a nice touch of piety and Kristen Tommasini was charming as the sweet and innocent Prudence, while Daniel Fleming was a nicely clean cut Truman Pendennis and Chris Evans was a suitably starched and upright Harold Standfast. Malcolm Elliot was a smug, oily Simon Darkway and Norm Caddick was slimy in the extreme as his henchman, Dirk Smeath, while Penni Hamilton-Smith was just the part as the exotic femme fatale, Carlotta Cortez, a woman who has a heart of gold and switches to the side of good to help save the day.

Brian Messenger, as Fred, Christopher Meegan, as Dan, Vicki Arnold, as Fifi, and Sue Wylie, as Beulah Belle, along with Ian Rigney, Kaye Hamlyn, and Lindy LeCornu all contribute greatly to making this a most enjoyable evening of old-time theatre.

If you are looking for a fun night out, with plenty of chances to hiss, boo, call out, applaud and enjoy a belly laugh, then you’ll want to get tickets to this one before they sell out.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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