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Rumpy Pumpy ! – Union Theatre, London

Writer/Composer/Lyricist: Barbara Jane Mackie
Director: Simon Greiff
Reviewer: David Guest

Jam and Jerusalem is replaced by jellies and lubes as two campaigning members of the Hampshire Women’s Institute fight for the de-criminalisation of prostitution and improved conditions for working girls.is replaced by jellies and lubes as two campaigning members of the Hampshire Women’s Institute fight for the de-criminalisation of prostitution and improved conditions for working girls.

tell-us-block_editedThe fictional musical account, based on an amazing real life story, is the engaging subject matter of Barbara Jane Mackie’s Rumpy Pumpy!, a small show with charm and a crusading social heart.

The piece premiered at the King’s Head Theatre last year, but is now part of a short run at the Union, having been staged at the Theatre Royal, Windsor last week. A film is also in the works.

Inspired by a Channel 4 documentary in which WI members Jean Johnson and Shirley Landels visited different brothels around the world to find the one that provided the best conditions for the girls who worked in them, this is clearly a musical with a message and certainly raises awareness of an issue which has yet to be resolved by the Government.

While the premise is promising, this still feels like a work in progress despite valiant efforts by every single member of a very pleasing cast. A story with masses of potential misses the mark when the show relies too heavily on clichés and given that its roots date back 10 years, it seems awkward to squeeze in references to vaping and Brexit to force it into the present day.by every single member of a very pleasing cast. A story with masses of potential misses the mark when the show relies too heavily on clichés and given that its roots date back 10 years, it seems awkward to squeeze in references to vaping and Brexit to force it into the present day.

There also seems to be a big musical trying to fight its way out of what often appears lightweight and dismissive – important characters are drawn sketchily and musical director Paul Smith seated at a single keyboard handles the accompaniment to some strong and memorable songs well, yet even a couple more musicians would add some oomph.oomph.

Having said all that, director Simon Greiff delivers a production which is never less than likeable and the 11-strong cast largely play a number of roles, showing versatility and quick change stamina.largely play a number of roles, showing versatility and quick change stamina.

As Jean and Shirley, Louise Jameson and Tricia Deighton convey the warmth of their relationship alongside their passion for justice and provide plenty of chuckles along the way as their adventure takes them from a straitlaced world of knitting and cake-baking to the less salubrious atmosphere of brothels, bunny ranches and Amsterdam’s red light district.

Linda Nolan is a real ‘tart with a heart’ as Holly, the tough Madam who befriends the ladies and supports their unpopular campaign (there is also an amusing nod to Linda’s family chart success). More could be made of the subplot involving her daughter (played beautifully by Alex Roots) and the burgeoning relationship with a kindly neighbour (James Charlton, in just one of his several stand-out roles).

Basienka Blake plays the vengeful DC Hecks with a lively twinkle, though the script doesn’t make it entirely clear why she is dealing with legal matters beyond her jurisdiction and her venomous Bible-bashing attitude to the women in the brothel is hackneyed.

Vigorous performances as working girls around the world, clients, police and uptight WI colleagues come from Claudia Cadette (whose emotive 11 o’clock torch number Am I Broken? is just one musical highlight), Sally Frith, Liberty Buckland, Scarlet Wilderink and Craig Armstrong.is just one musical highlight), Sally Frith, Liberty Buckland, Scarlet Wilderink and Craig Armstrong.

There is no reason to think this musical couldn’t be developed into something stronger and larger scale. In the nicest possible way the Union provides a suitably sleazy backdrop to the proceedings yet the larger than life story and characters seem cramped.

Given the strengths of this production, and the lessons that will surely be learned from it, this bright and bold little show could go a long way. If the laws do change it could even be a celebration of Shirley and Jean’s commitment to an important cause.change it could even be a celebration of Shirley and Jean’s commitment to an important cause.

Runs until 19 November 2016 | Image: Scott Rylander

Writer/Composer/Lyricist: Barbara Jane Mackie Director: Simon Greiff Reviewer: David Guest Jam and Jerusalem is replaced by jellies and lubes as two campaigning members of the Hampshire Women’s Institute fight for the de-criminalisation of prostitution and improved conditions for working girls.is replaced by jellies and lubes as two campaigning members of the Hampshire Women’s Institute fight for the de-criminalisation of prostitution and improved conditions for working girls. The fictional musical account, based on an amazing real life story, is the engaging subject matter of Barbara Jane Mackie’s Rumpy Pumpy!, a small show with charm and a crusading social heart. The piece…

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