And now for something completely different … After being closed since the late 1940s, the old “Ally Pally”, perched on a hill overlooking North London, but dwarfed by the huge mast from which the BBC transmits digital radio and television programmes, has reopened as a theatre, and on 30th October it did for the first time in eighty years what it is best remembered for – staging a Music Hall variety show. This is what it was doing from when it first opened in 1875, although the dilapidation following its closure has required the interior to be stripped of its finery as a prelude to redecoration. But the current drabness of the walls and ceiling made the show itself stand out all the more as a colourful extravaganza, celebrating the best traditions of this uniquely British form of entertainment. The audience, surprisingly large (or perhaps not so surprisingly) for a Wednesday afternoon, absolutely loved it, and sang along with many of the songs. As for your reviewer, who is not easily impressed – he was absolutely gobsmacked!
Not that the format of the show was completely unfamiliar. The Good Old Days, on which it is based, ran for donkey’s years on BBC television, and many of the surviving recordings were aired again on BBC 4 not so long ago. Who does not remember the Chairman, Leonard Sachs, dapper in bow tie and tails, introducing each act with a concatenation of polysyllabic alliteration? This role was taken last Wednesday, with equal aplomb, by David Graham, at the sound of whose gavel a brilliant succession of artistes paraded their talents for our delight. They were assembled under the auspices of the redoubtable trouper, Jan Hunt, herself a doyenne of The Good Old Days, and her Paper Moon Theatre Company. She is still a stalwart of The Players’ Theatre Club, which keeps alive the tradition of Victorian music hall with performances at various London venues throughout the year.
Jan’s own high standards were matched by the artistes, young and old, who delighted our senses with a succession of song, dance, comedy and magic routines which one wished would never end. The show was conceived as a tribute to the Variety greats of old, such as Gracie Fields, George Formby and Vera Lynn. When borrowing from their repertoire, their modern-day interpreters did not let them down. It would not be fair to mention the names of a few without mentioning the names of them all, as they were all so good. But it has to be said that the frenetic finale, powered along by Ferris and Milnes, was a tour de force. If your reviewer gets a chance to see this show, or anything like it, again, wild horses will not drag him away!