Two slices of France in Suffolk

Two shows which celebrate life in France are about to hit our stages. David Henshall takes a look at both productions and can almost smell the fresh coffee and baguettes

There’s a little bit of France coming up on stage in two of our towns. The Baker’s Wife, a delightful, amusing story about what happens to a community when the baker’s wife runs off with somebody else.

With lovely songs by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Joseph Stein, it is the latest offering from Felixstowe Musical Theatre at the Spa Pavilion, the week after next.

La Vieille Ville is a brand new musical written by two founder members of EyesWrite, a Framlingham-based company.

Two strangers arrive in a little French town that has fallen on hard times and decide to help put the place back on its feet by organising a grand fiesta.


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However, all is not quite what it seems, there’s skulduggery afoot and it may take the arrows of romance to put things right.

La Vieille Ville is at the Headmaster Porter Theatre at Framlingham College next week

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People with long memories will recall that The Baker’s Wife was the musical Trevor Nunn (now Sir Trevor) fell in love with and staged at the Wolsey Theatre before it opened in London in 1989. Ipswich audiences had the pleasure of seeing Alun Armstrong (currently one of the aging detectives in New Tricks on telly) as the baker and Nunn’s then wife, Sharon Lee-Hill, as the runaway spouse.

Nunn was totally smitten by the music, particularly Meadowlark, the song Genevieve the baker’s wife sings before leaving her husband, and Ipswich had the sell-out premiere before the show moved to the West End.

The Baker’s Wife, battling against blockbuster musicals like Miss Saigon, was nominated for the best musical Olivier Award, but sadly had only a shortish run in London. However, it has since developed into something of a cult show all over the world. Schwartz and Stein have done a certain amount of what Schwartz calls ‘sprucing up’ of the story and some of the lyrics.

David Crane is directing at the Spa. It is the show he has been dying to do for ages.

“I have loved the score since I saw the show at the Wolsey, still have the Alun Armstrong recording and I was thrilled when FMT read the script, liked it and wanted to do it,” he said. “It’s perfect for the company with lots of characters of all ages.

“It’s what I call a real theatregoer’s show with a good story and beautiful music. Meadowlark is probably the showstopper and Chanson and If I Have To Live Alone are two more or my favourites.”

The villagers are relieved to hear that a new man has been found to replace the baker who died and they are doubly delighted when Aimable Castagnet turns out to be a real find, producing the most delicious bread.

But later his much younger, beautiful wife Genevieve is attracted by the persistent attentions of the handsome Dominique and eventually runs away with him.

Aimable crumbles, the bread burns and the village has to do something about it – or go hungry.

FMT have hired the professional set and the cast will be backed by an eight-piece band. Alex Shulver plays Aimable with Kerryanne Crane as Genevieve and newcomer Chris Branch as Dominique.

La Vieille Ville (The Old Town) is by Alan Huckle, who wrote the music and combined with Gwyn Guy on the lyrics and the book.

They are founder members of EyesWrite, a company dedicated to promoting local playwriting talent and they decided to start the thing off with their own work.

Another member, Sue Franklin, a former professional in musical theatre, fell in love with the score and offered to direct the show. Her husband Robin is the set designer and builder and says it is a story about a small town anywhere but set in France because it seemed to best fit the mood.

It concerns a couple of conmen who arrive in the place and decided that it is ripe for plucking. They insert themselves into the community, help to set up the big fiesta and are all set to flee with the takings when cupid intervenes to put their consciences under attack.

They both start to lose their hearts – the older one to the local bistro owner, the other to her daughter – and it’s a question of whether love or money will win.

The conmen are played by Keith Clempson and Chris Walters with Flick Lamb as Marie and Claire Robertson as Celeste.

The songs, says Robin Franklin, are a nice mixture, very much in the musical theatre tradition with love ballads and up-tempo numbers which he is sure will have audiences humming all the way home.

The singers will be backed by a group with keyboards and guitars who will have their own bandstand as part of the town square set.

n La Vieille Ville is at the Headmaster Porter Theatre, Framlingham College, from Thursday, June 3 to Saturday, June 5 at 7.30 with a Saturday matinee at 2.30. Tickets from the Crown Hotel, Framlingham and la-vieille-ville.web.officelive.com.

n The Baker’s Wife is at the Felixstowe Spa from Wednesday, June 9 to Saturday, June 12 at 7.30 with a Saturday matinee at 2.30. Tickets: 01394 282126 and thespapavilion.com.

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