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Oklahoma! – Chichester Festival Theatre

Readers might recall that when I purchased my matinee ticket for Oklahoma the box office informed me it was a “relaxed” performance. This was defined in the programme as one for those in the autistic spectrum.

The box office lady said I should expect some attending to shout out and move about during the performance. It was also explained in an email from the theatre that at 2.15 – 15 minutes prior to the performance- there will be a demonstration in advance of anything you might find scary or uncomfortable. I arrived a few minutes late for this but key members of the cast were on stage demonstrating gun shots and fights between the two suitors of Laury, Jud and Curly. Not being on the autistic spectrum this was something of a spoiler for me.

I guess relaxed is in the mind of the beholder. My neighbour fell asleep almost immediately and stayed in that state for most of the performance. With a few minutes to go to the interval my bladder pressure was such that I left for the loo. More relieved than relaxed.

A theatre staff expressed some concern to see me on my own and I was tempted to say “I am meeting Grannie for a cup of tea.”

The box office was correct on shouting out.

Two of the audience in wheelchairs emitted a loud baying noise not unlike a hyena. Another had something she/he was shaking which emitted a constant noise. Another clapped rhythmically but for no reason.

I had huge admiration for the cast and even more for the carers.

As for the musical this was extremely good. Oklahoma! was the first co-production of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, a combo that went onto to create Carousel, The King and I and The Sound of Music .

Oklahoma!’s initial run was a staggering 2,212 performances and as a cowboy country musical it is timeless with such songs as Oh what a beautiful morning, The Surrey with a Fringe on Top, People will say we’re in love and Oklahoma.

This production added an edge to the courting of Laury (Amara Okille) by Jud, the surly farmhand (Emmanuel Kojo) as both were black. Given how white America treated the native Indians of Oklahoma I doubt if either would haven been afforded much tolerance by their community.

Amara Okilele was superb in her role both in her singing and acting.

Emmanuel Kojo was wooden as an actor but had a strong voice.

The other suitor the cowboy Curly was well played by Hyole o’Grady.

Josie Lawrence as Aunt Eller was commanding.

It’s odd how selective PC is.

I did not feel at all comfortable given the current slayings to see Jud twice produce a knife on Curly or the frequent use of the gun. The characterisation of strength through armed weaponry surely has much to answer for in contemporary America.

I have to say that the constant noise was more than a distraction.

As I left I saw two members of the cast heading for the bar as soon a possible, visibly stressed. I cannot say how much those on the autistic specrtrum comprehended or enjoyed the musical but it was a day out.

As I walked to the station I thought I heard some wolves only to see two young carers pushing two of the loudest shouters energetically along the pedestrianised ways to the station.

About Tim Holford-Smith

Despite running his architectural practice full-time, Tim is a frequent theatre-goer and occasional am-dram producer. More Posts