George! Go see this!
George – Don’t Do That!: The Music and Magic of Joyce Grenfell is part two of MetroStage’s three-part Spring Solo Series featuring three artists telling stories of the remarkable women who have influenced and touched their lives. The show was devised and performed by comedienne and actor Catherine Flye, a native of England. She is accompanied by Music Director and Pianist Joseph Walsh with Michael Tolaydo as the narrator. George – Don’t Do That! is a show Flye has performed since 2003 throughout the U.S., British Isles, and Africa.
Joyce Grenfell passed away November 30, 1979. Though she was three-quarters American, she was a legendary British comedienne, singer, solo performer and actress whose influence on the comedy scene on both sides of the Atlantic lingers to this day. From the 1950s to the 1970s, she often collaborated with Richard Addinsell when writing songs for her one-woman show. He set more than fifty of her songs to music and is renowned as the composer of “The Warsaw Concerto,” a dramatic, emotional piece written for the 1941 British film Dangerous Moonlight, which is about the Polish struggle against the 1939 invasion by the Nazis. It is performed during this show.
Catherine Flye bears a striking physical resemblance to Joyce Grenfell, and this show is her tribute to a woman who has influenced her since she was a child growing up in Northampton, England. Part of the fun of watching her perform is observing the way she enunciates, chewing through a variety of accents from upper-crust Brit, to one not on the social register, and a Brit trying out a German accent.
MetroStage is an intimate, 130-seat theater in Old Town Alexandria. The stage was adorned in period detail: A Persian carpet, an upholstered, red velvet armchair. Occupying stage left was a baby grand piano adorned with a vase bursting with white and red silk roses. This was where Joseph Walsh masterfully tickled the ivories and guffawed at the jokes along with the audience.
Closer to the lip of the stage, the award-winning actor and St. Mary’s College professor Michael Tolaydo, who narrated the show with an upscale British “Sloan Ranger” accent, had a stand and a wooden stool.
Two of Flye’s recreations were of Grenfell’s classic routines of a nursery school or Kindergarten teacher dealing with … unique students. The show’s title comes from Grenfell’s oft cranky and high-pitched command to a restless student: “GEORGE – DON’T DO THAT!!” Apparently, teachers’ associations worldwide showed videos or recordings of her routines as examples of how not to teach young children. They were right.
Grenfell’s “Free Activity Period” and the hysterical “Flowers” as performed by Flye are must-sees. In “Free Activity Period,” she deals with a roomful of active kids, including Hazel who manages to wedge her finger into a keyhole. In “Flowers,” she asks the class to imagine themselves as flowers. Sydney doesn’t play along. He wants to be a horse, and later a carrot or a holly leaf.
Another scene, closer to home, Flye recreates Grenfell’s people watching observations in the opera house at the Kennedy Center. In yet another, Grenfell displays her boredom with Beethoven’s music. During other scenes, aided by Walsh and Tolaydo, she describes attending a dance class where there are more women than men, and having to dance with a shorter woman “bust to bust” (Only it sounds like “boost to boost”). “I’m as stately as a galleon,” she said as the audience roared with laughter. “I sail across the floor.”
Other memorable scenes include Grenfell’s reaction to her first flight as a Trans-Atlantic airlines passenger, and another in which she recounts her meeting with Elvis Presley, “a roly-poly lad singing hillbilly songs.” Pull on your blue suede shoes and hightail it over to MetroStage to catch this very fun show, and a look back at a legendary lady comic. Thank you for the introduction, Catherine Flye!
Running Time: two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
George – Don’t Do That!: The Music and Magic of Joyce Grenfell plays through Sunday, March 25, 2018, at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets call the box office at 703-548-9044 or but them online.