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Reviewer: Helen Tope

Director: Ellie Coote

Writers: Matt Cavendish and Ed Zanders

Drawn larger than life, Bluff is a musical that seemingly operates in a major key. Written by Matt Cavendish and Ed Zanders, this new production at its core delivers an unflinching look at truth, success and ambition.

Bluff has been designed for radio, and its bright, sunny facade (a fictional town called Paradise), is built on the premise that everyone is bluffing it.

The humour is broadly applied, and the characters (at first) we don’t take too seriously. But as the musical zooms in on the central cast, the story begins to build. We meet Shirley Judge (voiced by Bobbie Little) – a young woman from Paradise who has returned after flunking out of Uni. She has set her sights on “making it to the top” – a vague, unshaped notion of greatness.

She applies for the post of Head Librarian at the town’s local library. Already working there is her childhood friend, Alec (Ryan Kopel). Honest to a fault, Alec bucks the trend for embellishment and untruth. Working away modestly, his dream is to maintain the library he’s inherited from his mother.

Shirley and Alec instantly hit it off: Shirley even suggests they job-share the post – “half a desk, half a kettle”. The idea sounds irresistible, and Alec agrees. When Shirley goes into the interview room, she instead harpoons Alec’s chances of promotion and scoops up the role for herself. Shirley’s ascent begins. All this is done, not by merit, but a very recognisable form of glad-handing politics.

Bluff for all its old-fashioned charm, is a very contemporary musical. Zanders and Cavendish have created a production that not only looks at the mechanics of ambition, but the influence of parents on their children. Alec’s dad (a great performance from Alan Cox) reassures his son everything will be alright. Shirley, on the other hand, sees her career micro-managed by her overbearing mother Marion (an excellent Alex Young). Sitting somewhere between Margaret Thatcher and Moira Rose, Marion (or Madame General, hinting at her earlier military career) is determined for Shirley to succeed. Not for the gratification of seeing her daughter excel, but rather as a way to restore herself to former glory.

The jaunty, wide-eyed style of Bluff is undercut by the commentary from Zanders and Cavendish. Juxtaposing idealism and cynicism, neither really wins, but the musical leaves us in no doubt of where it stands when it comes to Shirley’s brand of “bluffing your way through it” politics. A bluff seems harmless, until it comes to achieving ambition without the graft, success without the hard knocks. We don’t have to look too far, the musical suggests, to see the implications of this played out in real life.

Cleverly pitched between deep satire and bold, colourful strokes of humour, Bluff takes our assumptions and subverts them. Singing about the virtue of truth may have seemed a dull proposition five years ago, but now Bluff is in its right moment; telling us something we need to hear.

Available here 

The Reviews Hub Score

Between deep satire and bold humour

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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