The Shelley Theatre is a captivating meeting of new and old. The time-worn fabric of the building flows effortlessly into the modern additions and contemporary comforts. Its programming shares a similar flavour, with traditional theatre alongside Fringe style comedy, traditional folk music standing beside newer compositions.
It is extremely rare, however, to see and hear all of these things within the scope of a single show!
The Polly Morris band are a force to be reckoned with, each member gifted with chameleon-like skills needed to blend seamlessly between touching moments of sensitive songwriting, and side-splitting hilarity with more than a hint of Carry On humour.
With costume changes and scenes passing by with impeccable comic timing, it would have been easy to believe we’d seen a cast size approaching the variety show performances of a bygone era. Polly Morris lead the ensemble through the night with her warmth, charisma, songwriting prowess and thoughtful delivery. Stepping aside briefly, we were also treated to a series of feature spots throughout the evening in which the band welcomed local performers to share a number of their own songs before blending back into the fabric of the band.
Instrumentally, the band were tight and the arrangements all suggested a share of time and care. At points this was the result of the work of Kate, a multi-instrumentalist and gifted composer/arranger who had constructed the beautiful settings for many of Polly’s most heartwarming songs. Steve Faulkner supported this with stunning fiddle accompaniment, and combined with Mandy Stansfield’s pure and effortless vocal, we were served some genuine magic in the musical pieces.
For the sketches that punctuated the evening, Brian Harries undoubtedly stole the show in almost every scene, from shuffling onto the stage dressed as pigeon in the most grand set-up for a musical punchline, or emerging from the wings in a bath towel to deliver the operatic tale of his search for a hairbrush. As the MC for the evening, he had the sellout audience hanging on his every word, and I think we were all in awe of his ability to play the piano with a household iron. It truly has to be seen to be believed.
It’s almost impossible to summarise such a diverse show. After being played in by a harpist in the foyer, Mandy’s siren-esque vocal set the scene. Polly’s observational comedy songs brought more than a hint of humour to the everyday and Steve Faulkner had the crowd singing as one through a selection of much loved folk songs. Guest spots galore even saw Lee Cuff of Kadia on stage with Polly and Mandy. To top it all off, we were witness to possibly the first attempt to arrange Lady Gaga’s back catalogue for comedian and stylophone.
A Folk21 thread asked if there could be a shared forum for folk and comedy, perhaps looking back to the 70s when arguably the mix was more popular. After my experience with the Polly Morris band, I am entirely sold on the idea and hope that the band keep bringing this winning formula to audiences everywhere.
Polly Morris returns to the Shelley for a fundraiser for the Royal Bournemouth Hospital for evening and matinee performance of April 28th check website for details.
Leonardo MacKenzie - Words, Pictures
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