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 took 74 years to finally hit the stage of Selkirk’s Victoria Hall on Tuesday to begin a five night run, writes Sandy Neil.
This tale of clashing class set in 1930s England, with a catchy score written by Noel Gay and a comic script revised by Stephen Fry, is the source of many favourite sing-alongs like ‘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 called Bill Snibson, the old Earl’s secret love-child, is the sole claimant to the great 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 barrow boy 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.
Alas, not invited is Bill’s fishmonger sweetheart Sally Smith, the girl of this comic light opera’s 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 I 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 II.
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 battle-axe 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 like 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 5th March (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.