Writers: Le Navet Bête collaboration
Director: John Nicholson
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Dick Tracy is a busy man. He has been cleaning up the city from the organised crime capers of criminal mastermind Big Boy Caprice and his merry bunch of henchmen; The Squealer, Cueball and Flat Top. First he stops them pulling off a jewellery heist, then a bank job and he even saves the Mona Lisa. “Just doing my job,” says our square-jawed hero.
Frustrated by our incorruptible hero, who even manages to anticipate the criminal gang’s next move, Big Boy Caprice clearly needs a new evil strategy to bend City Hall to his wishes. Thus starts a hilarious plot to “go legit” and frame Tracy, to get him out of the way so the gang can bring in the wrecking ball to the city centre and build their own money making enterprise.
This high-energy, very funny production is written in collaboration by Le Navet Bête, and also director John Nicholson. The four performers are huge fun and frantically fill all the rôles throughout the evening: Dan Bianchi is hugely menacing in a mask as The Squealer. But he also plays our hero, Dick Tracy, who manages to keep his sideways grimace and frown and doesn’t slacken his square jaw throughout the evening – even when kissing. Matt Freeman, playing Cueball and Tess Trueheart, breaks into energetic dance routines as often as he can get away with and makes a great whimpering Tess. Nick Bunt is a scary Big Boy Caprice, who creeps out many of the younger members of the audience by wearing a hideously ugly face mask, and then creeps out everyone else by his lascivious approaches to his mannequin girlfriend. Al Dunn, as Police Chief Brandon, has a great night locking everyone up and letting them out again. He also plays the comically ineffectual henchman Flat Top and makes a memorably stunning appearance later in drag. This talented foursome clown, dance and sing their way through this fast-paced evening with lightning quick costume changes.
As the city and the stage descend into mayhem, the criminals manage to get Tracy put in jail and plot their next evil steps. With a huge nod to US TV’s camply comic 1960s Batman, the end is never in doubt. “Right now I have got a city to save,” Tracy shouts from jail. This is the story of how he saves the city, puts the evil gang in jail and still gets the girl.
A huge folding set, designed by Phil Eddolls, pulls open to reveal a Gotham City-style backdrop to the ensuing chaos, Dick Tracy’s bedroom, a nightclub, jail, the bad boy’s den and the police chief’s office. Alex White is the unseen member of Le Navet Bête, in charge of the hugely important technical side of things. Sound effects, lighting and some superb masks are all essential parts of the evening, as is the musical support as the cast break into song and dance routines throughout the evening. There is a lot of physical and visual comedy. Le Navet Bête has clowning roots, and many gags rely heavily on sharply choreographed and directed collisions and near misses. There are some very funny moments with props – a model fire engine is brought in to put out a fire and even the part of Big Boy’s moll, Careless Whisper, is played by a mannequin – mostly – and only when she is in one piece.
Sadly, the sound delivery is rather disappointing on this evening’s production. Vocal delivery is not strong enough at times to deliver clearly the lines over the backing sound. The first half slows down in a few too many places between the funny moments and could be sharper, but the second half manages to keep up the cracking pace throughout. The opening pre-filmed scenes are not easy to make out or hear.
This is a hugely entertaining fun-filled evening for the whole family. The audience enjoys it enormously. When the henchmen get bored with their clean living, they start menacing the audience with a game of biscuit baseball. No one is safe. Who can save us?
Runs until Saturday 30th May 2015 as part of a UK tour.