Star Quality, Northumberland Theatre Company, from Friday, February 24, Alnwick Playhouse.
STAR Quality is aptly named.
The latest Northumberland Theatre Company production simply oozes star quality.
It is evident in the outstanding performances of all five members of the cast, who grapple with a seemingly endless stream of diverse characters, whose credibility matures like a fine wine throughout.
Then there’s some classy singing, smart use of technology and a clever set, all under the tight direction of Gillian Hambleton.
Star Quality, which is based on a glittering television singing contest, is a complex, multi-layered story, often told in flashbacks but with several simple messages – never give up on your dreams, the importance of family and friendship, the folly of war, etc.
As if to emphasis one of the play’s main themes – society’s unhealthy obsession with celebrity – a massive TV screen takes centre stage, onto which is beamed the final of the X-Factor-style show, neatly filmed live using a hand-held camcorder and interspersed with news clips of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the appalling floods we have suffered recently.
A counter-argument that the TV-made stars can actually do some good by releasing charity singles and raising money for the real heroes operating in a different theatre – that of war – is also touched upon by Barry Stone’s bristling script.
Shopkeeper Miss Lavender’s failed romance with showbusiness impresario Freddie Maverick and the subsequent nosedive in her career as a cruise-ship entertainer belting out Lulu songs turn her into a chronic agoraphobic.
She takes on lively errand boy Julian King, whose fortunes change as he finds himself in the final of the most popular talent show Star Quality.
She can see the boy’s turmoil mirrored in her own and uses it to urge him on.
Meanwhile, Julian finds there is a twist in his personal tale of woe told to millions on screen. He was singing for his dead dad, but did his father really drown off the North East coast? There are echoes here of another topical news story of recent times.
The frailties of Miss Lavender are perfectly portrayed by Bidi Iredale, while her early years are given spark by lookalike Janine Leigh, who more than do justice to a great Lulu repertoire, including a splendid version of Step Inside Love.
One of the brightest, young stage prospects, Louis Roberts, last seen as Beast in the NTC’s Christmas show Beauty and the Beast, once again shines, this time as Julian, a young Freddie and others.
His beautifully rounded tones deliver breathtaking snippets of a diverse range of tunes, from Billie Jean to Dance With My Father. His Perfect Day at the close brings a genuine lump to the throat.
Marvyn Dickinson gives an assured performance as the TV and SS Canberra comperes, among other parts!
NTC stalwart Stuart Howson, as Freddie Maverick and Julian’s dad, makes up the nap hand of quality actors.
It is a night to remember, full of humour, pathos and genuine emotion.
If you are wavering and unsure whether or not to splash out for tickets, don’t hesitate. Take my word for it, you’ll enjoy it immensely.