Book and Lyrics: Jonathan Kydd
Music: Andy Street
Director: Jonathan Moore
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Every so often, a musical comes along that reminds you just why you fell in love with the genre. That musical is Hamilton. And as the night follows day, a piece of work comes along which tempts you to agree with the latest piece of clickbait in The Guardian that proclaims that all musicals are rubbish. Doodle, despite the best efforts of a subset of the cast, is firmly in the latter camp.
In Jonathan Kydd’s World War II-set “comedy” musical, Barnes Wallis (creator of the famed Dambusters bouncing bomb) is kidnapped by the Germans, where he is persuaded to construct a bouncing U-boat. The officer charged with the rescue mission, however, dislikes Wallis so constructs a rescue squad of the most incompetent characters he can find.
In itself, that summary could include enough potential for the sort of zany musical that could support plenty of humorous songs and hilarious performance. Instead, we get a collection of moderately entertaining songs by Andy Street, each of which is harmed by sticking around for too long, requiring Kydd’s lyrics to repeat themselves until all goodwill is spent.
The book has all the hallmarks of a Showstopper-style improvised musical, as if “Nazis!”, “Sherlock Holmes impersonator!” and “rubbish robot!” had been thrown out at the production team on the day, rather than this being a piece of work that had been written in advance.
But no, this is a show which has been scripted – and penned by someone who finds homosexuality hilarious in all the wrong ways (camp voices are hilarious! Men in public toilets must be up to no good! Calling a woman a “dyke” is a great punchline!), has a whole scene where George VI’s stammer is the entire butt of the joke, and whose level of humour is not so much politically incorrect as missing in action.
There are some decent jokes in the morass of banality: creating a character called Deadman who is presumed to be the disposable crew member and giving him a Star Trek red shirt is amusingly presented, and subverted well in the second act. But most of the time, Kydd’s script spends so much time telling itself it’s funny that it forgets to construct jokes well enough for the audience to recognise them as such.
The brightest moments in the whole piece come via Sooz Kempner as Weaver, the woman who is constantly overlooked by the military top brass until she poses as a man in order to join the away mission. Several of Kempner’s seeming ad-libs and asides have the sort of knowing wink to the audience that one wishes were prevalent throughout. One looks forward to seeing her in material that better serves her comedic skills.
Elsewhere, the production takes bold new steps by including cameos from David Niven and Errol Flynn that neither look nor sound anything like either real-life actor. Several of the military top brass are boldly cast with actors who struggle with tuning, pacing and, volume – unusual qualities for musical theatre actors to lack. If the cast were local amateurs performing a Christmas show in their village hall, one might be more forgiving: but this is supposed to be a professional production, and one is entitled to expect performances to match.
In all, Doodle is a sprawling mess that smacks of self-indulgence on the parts of its writers and director. A pastiche of World War II films needs to be far funnier, far more intelligently written and far shorter than this overlong muddle.
Runs until 28 January 2018 | Image: Contributed