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The Revellers Society: The show WILL go on at South Mill Arts in Bishop's Stortford this December

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Christmas will be different this year because of coronavirus – and the same can be said of the seasonal show at South Mill Arts.

While there's no pantomime at Bishop's Stortford's premier entertainment venue this December because of the villainous Covid-19 ("Boo! Hiss!"), audiences aged 16 and over can be entertained by a "decadent and bawdy" cabaret-style variety show that features the panto staples of comedy, song, dance and audience participation.

The man who wrote and directed 2019's Sleeping Beauty at the former Rhodes Arts Complex is behind The Revellers Society, a high-energy, fast-paced, immersive theatrical comedy experience which is being performed for seven evenings from Wednesday December 16 to 23 (excludes Sunday December 20).

Revellers Society (43228842)
Revellers Society (43228842)

Director, writer and producer Ian McFarlane and Big Adventure Productions have conceived a stylish and sophisticated show featuring a cast of seven that includes two of last year's Sleeping Beauty cast – Aaron Kavanagh, who played Prince Felix, and Joel Macey, who was the gloriously vain Prince Adolpho – as well as musical director Laurie Denman.

Ian said: "A laugh rippling through a group of people feeds the human spirit more than reacting to a joke alone. We now find ourselves in a world that needs to laugh and escape reality more than ever, but the restrictions we face prohibit exactly what makes theatre so special – a shared and, most importantly, live experience."

However, in the spirit of the creative industry that is showbiz, the coronavirus restrictions have not stifled the opportunity for creative solutions – despite the audience being restricted each night to a maximum of 58, compared with the usual 299.

The cast of the Revellers Society (43228693)
The cast of the Revellers Society (43228693)

Ian said: "Cabaret-style theatre has the capacity to immerse the audience in a different world, giving them the connectedness they crave. It is also an inherently flexible form that can adapt to social distancing regulations.

"The Covid-secure performance conundrum has been solved by building the necessary precautions into the world of the show itself. The cleaning of the spaces, providing sanitiser, social distancing... all are part of the performance, with the aim of making guests feel confident in escaping reality for a short while."

Ian's directorial and writing work spans plays, musicals, comedy and film. As well as staging existing writing, he has a vast amount of experience in creating new work, and has developed shows with Olivier Award-winning West End choreographer Dame Gillian Lynne and Broadway producer Tristan Baker, to name two.

In 2019, Ian was commissioned by Blackpool Grand Theatre to write and direct its first in-house production as part of its 125th birthday celebrations. The show was Around the World in 80s Days, an adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel with a score of 1980s chart hits.

Ian McFarlane, left, with Sleeping Beauty producer Oliver Seadon. Picture: Philip Raymond Hires (43235607)
Ian McFarlane, left, with Sleeping Beauty producer Oliver Seadon. Picture: Philip Raymond Hires (43235607)

So what can South Mill Arts audiences expect?

Ian says: "Shrouded in mystery for over a century, we are about to lift the curtain on the world’s most acclaimed and secretive entertainment establishment – The Revellers Society.

"Book one of our fabulous cabaret tables then sit back, relax and be entertained by some of our wildest and most eccentric members. All of this will be socially distanced, with as much alcohol to rub on your hands as there is to quench your thirst!"

Experience the paranormal peculiarities of explorer Gilbert Hayes and bombshell Cissy Holliday. Marvel as song-and-dance duo Gleblii and Pavalonia evade the censor and skirt the edges of decency. And meet Aubrey Everett, a would-be star determined to make his big comeback whatever the cost to his dignity.

Aubrey is played by the most experienced member of the cast, 67-year-old New Zealand actor and singer Peter Land, who was married to Dame Gillian Lynne until her death in 2018.

Peter is known for his classical acting with the Royal National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company – he has appeared in productions with Sir Michael Gambon, Sir Patrick Stewart and Dame Peggy Ashcroft – as well as appearances in musicals including Phantom of the Opera and Cabaret in the West End and Ruthless! in New York.

* Tickets are on sale for tables of two (£47) and four (£94). If you require other table sizes, email enquiries@southmillarts.co.uk. Visit the box office at South Mill Arts in South Road, phone 01279 710200 and visit the South Mill Arts website.

The Revellers Society line-up

Aubrey Everett – An actor no audience member will ever forget, no matter how hard they try. His long and varied career has included such hits as King Lear: Singin' in the Reign, Ben Hair and Waiting for Godot Part II: Still Waiting for Godot.

Gilbert Hayes – famed for exploring the most exotic and dangerous locations on the planet (Timbuktu, Atlantis, Bognor Regis...) and brings his world-renowned collection of artefacts to the society for a series of fascinating presentations (management take no responsibility for lingering spirits or potent curses attached to said collection, but the purchase of sage and four leaf clovers is advised).

Cissy Holliday – darling of the London and New York stage, perhaps most famous for introducing the jazz standard Twinkle Twinkle Little Tsar in the Broadway smash Run Run Romanov! She recently triumphed in Medea! It's All Greek to Me!

Gleblii von Vonvallavitch – former Prince of the Independent (Former People’s Old Republic State United Sovereign Democratic) Kingdom of Slavaskia. After meeting saucy songstress Pavalonia Mitziploski he gave up his claim to the throne and they began touring the world as a song and dance duo. They wish to remind everyone that Slavaskia has a very open and sexy culture – they apologise in advance but assure you the audience always comes first.

Ms Vivian Archer – known to avid radio listeners as "mistress of a thousand voices". Her most recent credits include Venus de Milo: A Call to Arms, Jack & Jill: Beyond the Pale and Dessert Song. She's lost count of how many times she's worked with director and star Mr Aubrey Everett and says: "Coming back always surprises me."

Maxwell Sullivan – makes his Revellers Radio Represents debut in Mystery at Matronly Manor. He trained at the Ada D. Davis School for the performing arts and was the recipient of the Ada D. Cup for singing whilst acting.

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