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Carnaby Street – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Writers: Carl Leighton-Pope and Robert Johns

Director: Bob Tomson

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

[rating:3]

Carnaby Street New Alexandra TheatreCarnaby Street is the latest in the lengthening sequence of nostalgia-driven jukebox musicals. It treads a well-worn path, consisting of a string of hits, this time from the 60s, tacked together with the flimsiest of links and slightest of plots. In this offering, we meet a hopeful pair of friends from Merseyside, Penny Lane (Verity Rushworth) and Jude (Matthew Wycliffe), who have hitchhiked to London to find fame and fortune. Jude’s musical talents are quickly spotted by wideboy Jumpin’ Jack (Aaron Sidwell), who introduces Jude to The C Street Band, residents at The Marquee Club, and its leader, Wild Thing (Mark Pearce). We also meet the in-crowd, including the outrageously camp clothes designer and seller, Lily the Pink (Paul Hazel), and Lady Jane (Tricia Adele-Turner). Eventually, Jack, with a little help behind the scenes from Jane, gets Jude’s demo heard by impresario Arnold Layne (Hugo Harold-Harrison) and Jude is set on the road to success, albeit without his longstanding friends.

The first half is slow moving and even the best efforts of the young, energetic and talented cast (all songs and music are performed live and onstage) fail to inject any energy into it. The choreography is wooden. The balance between songs and plot is so heavily skewed that it actively prevents the plot from developing, with very short, often tenuous links to carry the plot and shoehorn in another classic – for example, when Lily, out of the blue, claims to see an ex, a vicar’s son in the audience, by way of introduction to Son Of A Preacher Man. The main elements of comic relief are brought by spotting the sixties hits after which the characters are named and the running joke of a newspaper seller, played with dry humour by Gregory Clarke, walking across announcing headlines from the time with wry commentary: “Nelson Mandela jailed for life; well, that’s the last anyone will ever hear from HIM!”

After the interval, the show does become more mature. The songs, although still standards, are more introspective as the characters all have to live with the consequences of their actions. For the first time, the cast seem to really feel the music and performances are more rounded, but it is difficult to put meat onto characters and storylines that are so very sketchily drawn.

The standout performances in the second half come from Tricia Adele-Turner and Paul Hazel. Adele-Turner shows her vulnerability when Lady Jane comes to terms with her actions and the drifting apart from boyfriend, Jude. There is a real sense of poignancy in her transatlantic duet with him. Hazel, easily the best and most natural dancer in the troupe, fills the stage variously with camp dialogue and then ill-concealed bitterness. The real stars, however, and what this audience of midlanders of a certain age came for, are the songs, which are performed superbly, although voices are occasionally lost in the sound balance. A largely empty stage, with set elements occasionally dragged on, facilitates the musical numbers effectively and the lighting creates just the right atmosphere.

So an enjoyable night, but one that could have given so much more.

Runs until 8th June

 

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