Gallery Players: Double Bill

Marry Me A Little & You Want Chilli Sauce With That?, Gallery Players, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, until Saturday

Marry Me A Little & You Want Chilli Sauce With That?, Gallery Players, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, until Saturday

It's not often you see two one-act plays put on together, let alone two one-act musicals. By staging this unusual programme, the Gallery Players have not only given us a chance to see a rarely performed Stephen Sondheim piece but have given an airing to an engaging home-grown 'musical short'.

The Sondheim first. Stephen Sondheim is the most original talent in the modern musical. There's an innovative, challenging thrust to his musical imagination, a distinctive turn to his rhythms and harmonies, a brilliant marrying of lyrics and music.

The Gallery Players here pay Sondheim homage, which is exactly what the show is for. It was originally put together by Craig Lewis and Norman Rene as an Off Broadway piece, featuring songs which were written but discarded, recycled, reworked or just left out of Sondheim shows.

The show is a song sequence, without dialogue, sung by two lonely people spending a Saturday night in their respective Brooklyn studio apartments, dreaming of what might be but, inevitably, doesn't happen.

The two performers, Stephanie Brown and Steve Watt do Sondheim very well. They work well as a duo and their acting and singing is expressive, dynamic and accurate. Sondheim addicts will enjoy the chance to see lesser-known numbers performed in a context.

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You Want Chilli Sauce With That, which precedes the Sondheim, is an intriguing two-hander written and composed by Gallery Players' Musical Director, Richard Healey. A sweet little piece, its premise is that insecure people hide their true natures both from others and themselves.

So we get Samantha Horsfield as Donna, singing (and she's very good) fiery emotional songs from the confines of her lonely room. When she goes out, she's rude and aggressive. She's always in black, always on the pull and always let down.

Then we have Joe, who runs the family kebab house, and pretends he enjoys it. Sardonically and amusingly played by James Hayward, Joe seems assured and full of kindly wisdom, which he delivers to us in rambling but charming monologues. We come to realise that he, like Donna, is a mess. But all is not lost when the two eventually meet, almost as strangers, in a completely unexpected context where neither of them are playing roles.

A clever little show, well performed and with some cracking music.

Ivan Howlett