Bonnie & Clyde – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book: Ivan Menchell

Music: Frank Wildhorn

Lyrics: Don Black

Director: Nick Winston

It’s the Great Depression in America and life is hard for folks living in Texas as farms are repossessed and money is scarce. Who can blame the youngsters for craving excitement? Bonnie Parker certainly does – she dreams of a life as a famous movie star, writer and poet with her picture on the front of magazines – just like Clara Bow. Quite separately, Clyde Barrow has a somewhat idealised picture of the lives of the Public Enemies of the time, whose lifestyles seem unutterably glamorous. Then fate takes a hand when Bonnie and Clyde meet and the attraction between the charming Clyde and wide-eyed Bonnie is immediate and electric. And while Bonnie may make token protestations as their life of crime progresses, the deep and abiding love they have for each other binds them to the very end. As Bonnie and her sister-in-law Blanche sing, You Love Who You Love.

The real Bonnie and Clyde, of course, progressed to become ruthless killers having killed at least nine police officers and four civilians. With a bounty on their head, they died as they expected and as they lived, in a hail of bullets.

Katie Tonkinson brings us a sweet Bonnie and her descent after meeting Clyde is believable. Her singing voice has the right level of fragility, underscored by a sensuality in her movements, for example, in How ‘Bout A Dance. Alex James-Hatton is Clyde – a character full of himself who nevertheless would do anything for Bonnie. Sam Ferriday is Clyde’s brother, Buck. Ferriday brings us Buck’s inner turmoil as his own love for Blanche (Catherine Tyldesley) battles against fraternal love and some envy of Clyde’s lifestyle. Perhaps the most complex character is Blanche. Tyldesley demonstrates her unswerving Christian faith as she seeks to keep Buck on the straight-and-narrow, and her own conflict when he is determined to go to his brother after he is wounded. In amongst everything, there’s also plenty of humour, further helping to leaven what could be a disturbing watch

The songs reflect the time with a strong country and gospel feel. At times, it feels as if they serve more as punctuation than vehicles for the story, and there are times when the words are overwhelmed by the music, but there are some memorable moments, nonetheless. You Can Do Better Than Him, sung by Clyde and Ted (Daniel Reid-Walters) – the ranger who carries a torch for Bonnie – is simple and heartfelt. Jaz Ellington’s preacher belts out the gospel in contrast to Blanche’s Now That’s What I Call A Dream with its simple and effective arrangement.

Philip Witcomb’s set supports the storytelling well. It’s a complex set, with sliding features whisking us from place to place. Many of the elements are gunmetal grey with bullet holes, reminding us that a bloody death is always just round the corner for the outlaws. Nina Dunn’s video design complements the set, adding further dimensions to the presentation.

Against all the odds, Bonnie & Clyde manages to present the duo sympathetically, focusing on the central love stories, while acknowledging the fear and death they left in their wake. Take it on its own terms and it’s great fun.

Runs until 9 March 2024 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Sympathetic Love Story

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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