On February 9th 1964 four young men were on their way to perform their first major concert as ‘Forever Plaid’. They never made it. Now at Upstairs at the Gatehouse those four young men are back for one final show. This is the story of Forever Plaid.
Alone each of the four performers is terrific, yet when they come together they are truly sublime.
Director and manager of Upstairs at the Gatehouse, John Plews has made it clear in the programme how highly rates in this show, as well as giving his reasons for reviving it in these rather difficult times. He has made a great choice and his direction skills for a stage with an audience on two sides was well done. Racky Plews (choreography) has also, as expected, weaved her magic touch into the more energetic numbers with some fantastic dance pieces, despite the limited space they have to work with.
The stars of this show are, however, the four performers who take on the roles on Frankie, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky. Their comic timing, emotional reminisces, and most importantly tight vocal harmonies are a joy to behold and listen to. They took me on a musical journey which I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.
Alexander Zane, as Sparky, despite being the smallest of the four has an outstanding amount of stage presence and his energy fills the room as soon as he makes his first appearance. Sparky tends to do most of the talking to the audience and we can’t help falling in love with Alexander’s wit and gorgeous vocals.
The singer that really stood out for me was George Crawford as Jinx. His solo moments are sublime and, at one point when he really got into his groove, a big cheer went from the audience. He was an absolute delight to listen to.
The more comedic elements of the show went to the bass singer of the group Smudge, played by Christopher Short. Every nervous shuffle he made was timed to perfection and he really pulled off some of the more complex choreographed gaffes very well indeed. As the bass he is given fewer vocal solos than the others but his presence can still be felt in every song.
The final member of this quartet is Frankie, played by Cameron Burt. Like the others he too has a stunning voice. Frankie is the young man who really tugs at our heartstrings. His speech towards the end of the piece is particularly noteworthy. Cameron was also very good at setting the mood when the show was coming out of a fun segment and heading towards more sombre territory.
Alone each of the four performers is terrific, yet when they come together they are truly sublime. They perfectly navigated through complex harmonies and dance moves. From classic songs such as Catch A Falling Star and Three Coins In The Fountain right through to an upbeat calypso medley that led them all to wearing sombreros and doing the conga around the stage they succeeded in every challenge this show presents them with.
A big shout out is also due to Ian Oakley (keyboard and Musical Director) and Jess Martin (double bass) whose skills were also on full display. The whole creative and technical team too have done a great job at bringing Upstairs at the Gatehouse to back to life. Particular credit must go to Aaron J Dootson and Toby Burro. Their lighting and sound design was faultless and really helped bring the magic.
Personally I see this show as a bit of a symbol for the theatre industry which is fighting back from the effects of the pandemic. Alone all the parts are great. The lighting, the sound, the performers, the direction, the music, the choreography, the writing. But it is when these all come together that something truly magical happens and we, the audience, are whisked away into a wonderful land where anything is possible.