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The Princess Hall becomes Fat Sam’s Speakeasy in BEE’s Bugsy Malone

Alan Parker’s first feature film, Bugsy Malone, starring a young Jodie Foster as Tallulah didn’t quite catch the public imagination when it was released in 1976 but over the years the simple story of gang warfare using child actors has attracted a cult following and persuaded Parker that there was scope to turn it into a stage musical which he did in 1983. Since generally released, BugsyMalone has become the staple fare of school and youth productions, and rightly so, for it gives opportunities for young actors to play adult roles and develop characters that will stand them in good stead as their acting careers progress.

Burnham’s Excellent Entertainment Society have been performing in the Princess Theatre for 25 years and for this performance decided to try something different, turning the auditorium into Fat Sam’s speakeasy with chairs set around tables as if watching a cabaret. We were even greeted at the door by a slightly shady “bouncer” who allowed us to go in when we had shown our ticket. Everyone from the sound and light man to the prompt was dressed in 1920s clothes adding to the feeling that we were part of the action. The set was simple but effective with Dandy Dan’s swanky apartment stage right and Fat Sam’s office stage left. In between the two became a club, a park, a theatre, dressing room and various other locations. Clever use of hangings that could be reversed by the hard working stage team of James and David Ballantyne transported us between locations and a telephone box, which became progressively more covered in splurge as the performance progressed, was flown in when required.

BEES don’t turn away anyone who wants to perform and we had a cast that ranged in age from 4 to 17 who were obviously enjoying their moments in the limelight led from the front by a confident May Ladbrooke as the eponymous Bugsy, in pursuit of ingénue, Blousey who was well realised by Rachael Nicol, although not helped by her dresses which didn’t seem quite in period. Olivia Bird gave us a knowing Tallulah, coming down into the body of the “Club” to deliver her introduction with a pretty voice. Izzy Bird gave us a venomous Dandy Dan, as smooth and slimy as the contents of a splurge gun and Chloe Walkling showed her talents multi-tasking five characters with ease, including a hilarious appearance as a ventriloquist using one of the smaller cast members as her dummy. Pip Thompson’s Fizzy came across as worldly wise but vulnerable and Evelyn Moore and Heidi Barnett played their parts well. The dumb squad of Nathaniel Burridge-Grist as Captain Smolsky and Caleb Aston as his side-kick O’Dreary were suitably inept and Joey Aylward played henchman Knuckles with relish. But it was Fletcher Raymond as fast-talking Fat Sam who commanded every scene he was in, speaking with good diction in a commendable NYC accent, who gave the stand-out performance of the afternoon.

With 38 members many playing several characters, the cast filled the stage, especially at the great Splurge fight that closed the show and the chorus, singing under the keen eye of Frances Webb leading a talented stage band from the keyboard but well protected from splurge by the stage team, made a great sound.

It was a most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon, so well done to Director James Ballantyne and his Production team. Thanks for inviting me.

Chris Bailward