The special island in the middle of a foggy sea that is Kilworth House Theatre in the depths of Leicestershire is already an annual fixture for the Rutland Chapter of the Red Hat Society – and we’re only in our second year!
They say that you’ve got to have a dream: if you don’t have a dream, how are you going to have a dream come true? Well clearly Celia Mackay, owner of Kilworth House Hotel and Theatre, and producer of the summer shows, had a very big dream indeed and thanks to her and her astonishing team of professionals (on the stage, beside the stage, behind the scenes and in front of house) her own special dreams now bloom on the hillside and shine in the stream that winds through Kilworth’s grounds.
So it was that on some enchanted evening, two dozen women of a certain age – collectively the Not-Stuck-in-a-Rut-land Red Hatters – did indeed have something to put on a clean purple suit for, not to mention frocks, big red hats and co-ordinating tights, shoes and bags…
We had packages from home, thanks to Queen Tess of the p’Urplefrills and Little-Miss-Do-A-Lot bringing a picnic, packed while listening to Mitzi Gaynor and the cast of the 1958 movie. Among the delicacies we found – quite co-incidentally – betel nuts to chew (in loaf form) plus cucumber and cream cheese rolls, humus and crudites, ginger cookies and lemon drizzly cake followed by strawberries and cream, the whole tropically dressed with pretty violas and nasturtiums, and accompanied by choice wines.
As always on our Red Hat Hoots, the rain stayed away and the sun shone. A breeze from the south pacific rippled our frills and one or two hats – and there was much happy, happy talking, happy talk, talking about things we like to do…
And of course, because there is nothing like a dame, nothing acts like a dame, or attracts like a dame dressed from head to toe in purple, we also attracted a few stares, but our embarrassment threshold is pretty high now. After all, la vie est belle, la vie est gai when you’re growing old disgracefully! Queen Tess even has leaflets that explain to the curious what we’re about and act as recruitment flyers.
I prepared to break out the song sheets for the delight and delectation of fellow picnickers, because I may be only sixty inches high but every inch is packed with dynamite, however I was thwarted by a singing squadron of Seabees pounding past. They were followed by a bed pan of nurses doing PT. “They’ve got no clothes on” gasped a short-sighted gent at the picnic next to us, before his long-suffering wife pointed out the girls’ khaki uniforms were nude in colour but not in fact.
Thus the assembled theatre-goers were spared my rendition of Bali Ha’i, even though I know all the words thanks to wearing out my mother’s soundtrack LP as I was growing up. But a few minutes later, as Bloody Mary claimed centre stage, wreathed in smoke, transfixing actors and audience alike, I acknowledged that what Wendy Mae Brown and I have in common is our dress size, and not our voices.
My sisters in purple were already all of a quiver because I’d spread the word that last year’s irrascible Professor Higgins, the dashing Mark Inscoe, was playing Emile de Becque, the French plantation owner who falls in love with Nelly. And, as our seats this year were in rows C, D and E, we were certainly not watching him across a crowded room: the fit cast (in every sense) were just a twitch of a grass skirt away…
I’ve already mentioned the rich voice of Wendy Mae Brown as Bloody Mary, who was annoyingly wonderful. What of the rest of the cast?
Celia Graham was outstanding as Nurse Nelly Forbush, with her backwoods drawl, long legs and effortless voice. Her nurses ably supported her and one of the most complex scenes, the joyous I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, was a show-stopper with great choreography, cute 1940s costumes, real shampoo and gallons of water!
Of course Mark Inscoe, the singing silver fox, was perfectly cast as Emile, though I was disappointed by his costume for the first few scenes which was more ‘man at C&A’ than the cream linen I expect a French plantation owner to wear. No matter: this role had greater scope for Mr Inscoe’s warm vocals than last season’s My Fair Lady and you could have heard a pin drop during the first rendition of Some Enchanted Evening: this was what we needed, this was what we’d yearned for…
Daniel Robinson as Luther Billis was amazing, making much more of the role than I remember from the film version – by turns wisecracking, outrageous and perversely sweet! The Seabees and Marines were a troupe of proper characters including the Professor: welcome back Rutland’s own Robert Wilkes!
Christopher Jacobsen as ‘Lootellan’ Joe Cable was well cast: a clean-cut Princeton boy whose education and privilege crumble in the face of Liat’s beauty, though 60+ years on from South Pacific’s first performance, some of the 2014 audience shifted in their seats as Bloody Mary pimped her daughter’s virginity.
We were spell-bound for three hours, as racial prejudice broke up promising relationships and Bali Ha’i whispered on the winds of the sea: here am I your special island, come to me come to me! Then came the sad news that Lootellan Cable was dead. The ‘Japs’ were on the move, Emile had disappeared and Billis and his Seabees prepared to ship out as the theatre of war moved on to another stage.
After wondering how she’d feel, living on a hillside, looking on an ocean beautiful and still, Nelly finally realised she WAS in love with a wonderful guy and was taking care of his cute kids between nursing shifts, though with no idea if Emile was alive or dead. But at last, our weary Frenchman with one dream in his heart, one love to be living for, climbed his hill to clasp hands with Nelly. And as the orchestra soared to the emotional finale I am sure more than one Red Hatter wiped a tear from her eye (I know I did).
So there you have it. Some enchanted evening indeed! Close to our hearts they came, this fantastic KHT ensemble, only for us to have to fly away, only to fly as day turned to moonlight. Now, now we’re at home, still dreaming of paradise, still saying that paradise, that night, surely was ours!