Since its original production in 1937, the musical Me and My Girl has enjoyed sell-out performances in the West End and Broadway, but it has taken 74 years to hit the stage of Selkirk’s Victoria Hall on Tuesday, beginning a five-night run in the capable hands of Selkirk Amateur Operatic Society.
This tale of clashing classes, set in 1930s England, with a catchy score written by Noel Gay and a comic script revised by Stephen Fry, imcludes many favourite sing-alongs such as Leaning on a Lamppost, The Lambeth Walk, and The Sun Has Got His Hat On,
The plot begins as the Harefords, a family of snobbish aristocrats, seek an heir to the 13th Earl of Hareford, only to discover a cheeky, cheerful Cockney, Bill Snibson, the old earl’s secret love-child, is the sole claimant to the title, estate and wealth. Greeting his new upper-class family with “Wotcher cock!” and a pinch on Lady Battersby’s bottom, Bill the rough and rude Lambeth barrowboy appals the company with cockney rhyming slang and puns like “Aperitif?” “No thanks, I’ve got my own!”
To inherit the fortune, Bill must learn to speak and behave like a gentleman to satisfy the will’s executors: his aunt (or “Cary Grant”) Maria the Duchess of Dene, and Sir John Tremayne. Despite Sir John’s scepticism, the Duchess is confident blood will tell and sets about training Bill to be fit and proper in time for a party introducing suitable consorts of his own class.
Not invited is Bill’s fishmonger sweetheart Sally Smith, the girl of thie title, who must now compete for the new earl’s hand against the likes of gold-digger Lady Jacqueline Carstone. To prove to Bill where his heart belongs, Sally gatecrashes the party anyway with the Pearly Kings and Queens of London, and by the end of act one has the aristocrats “doing the Lambeth Walk. Oi!”
We all dream of winning the lottery, but L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber’s book reveals the strings attached, as Bill is expected to subscribe to the way of life (and wife) that goes with it.
“Every day you get more and more like a gentleman, I feel more and more out of place,” Sally laments, as she resolves to leave for London forever in act two.
However, the story of Me and My Girl is also about the triumph of love, as Sir John, who has a romantic ardour for the duchess, sympathises with Bill and Sally’s plight, and teaches the cockney lass the airs and graces to gain the family’s acceptance. Written in the class-obsessed context of pre-Second World War Britain, Sally punches with the play’s final moral, delivered in a perfect upper crust accent: “We are all of us susceptible to the right treatment.”
The opening night’s audience laughed loudest at the comic performances of Peter Robertson as the bufty Sir John, and of Morag McLintock’s shameless Lady Jacqueline Carstone, who breaks off her engagement to the chinless Hon Gerald Bolingbroke, played by Andrew Cockburn, to marry the new Earl’s money.
There was delight, too, in Raymond D’Agrosa’s skippy dancing as his character Herbert Parchester sings The Family Solicitor – a routine sadly repressed by the battleaxe duchess, played forcibly by Joy Snape. Steven Knight as Bill and Karen McKenna as Sally should also be commended for keeping up the Cockney chipper, as should the endurance of the supporting cast, who in one of their many changes of costume posed for long periods as portraits of the Hereford’s ancestors.
Audiences should also enjoy singing along to Noel Gay’s recognisable tunes such as the show-stopper The Lambeth Walk: a song so popular it inspired a news story in the Times in 1938 reporting: “While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances – to The Lambeth Walk.” Throughout Selkirk Amateur Operatic Society’s performance, the 12-strong orchestra, led by Nancy Muir, impressively recreated the atmosphere of the 1930s.
Me And My Girl begins every night at the Victoria Hall at 7.30pm until Saturday (with a Saturday matinee at 2pm), and tickets are available on the door or from the Scott’s Selkirk shop in the town’s Market Place.
Me and My Girl
Bill Snibson Steven Knight
Sally Smith Karen McKenna
Maria, Duchess of Dene
Sir John Tremayne
Lady Jacqueline Carstone
The Hon Gerald Bolingbroke
Charles, the Butler Ian Wilson
Sir Jasper Tring Stuart Moyes
Lord Battersby Robin Murray
Lady Battersby Michelle Hoppé
Mrs Anastasia Brown
Bob Barking Lee Tottman
Major domo Alistair Pattullo
Constable Morris Manson
Telegraph boy Adam Nichol
Dancers: Chloe Heatlie, Yvonne
Mitchell, Robyn Gray and Jenny Fuller
Guests, servants, cockneys: Farrah
Aziz, Maureen Cockburn, Karen D’Agrosa, Pauline Douglas, Tracey Freedman, Barbara Hood, Tina Orr, Jill Richardson, Lorna Watson, Tom Cameron, Graeme Lilley, Graham Milroy, Howard Walker
Producer Stuart Moyes
Musical director Nancy Muir
Choreography Lauren Gracie