Music: Noel Gay
Revised Book: Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent
Director Daniel Evans
Reviewer: Steve Turner
Tension is running high at Hareford Hall, the Earl has died and the long search for an heir has finally borne fruit. Imagine their horror then, when they find out that the heir is cockney costermonger Bill Snibson. The indignation of some of the family at a commoner inheriting the title is clear, the Duchess, however, takes it upon herself to turn Bill into a man fit to lead the family.
Tension was also in the air at last night’s performance as, before curtain up, artistic director Daniel Evans took to the stage. As he himself said it’s never to deliver good news, so we were informed that Matt Lucas would not be appearing (cue some groans of disappointment), but that Ryan Pidgen would instead be playing the role of Bill. Cue a large round of applause – if he wasn’t feeling the pressure he would be now!
The story itself is a familiar tale of rags to riches with the hero steadfastly refusing to leave ‘his girl’, the girl in question being fishmonger Sally. If we hadn’t been told that Pidgen was a late replacement then we would never have guessed. The chemistry between him and Alex Young as the feisty Sally, feels like it has been developed over time not just a few hours of rehearsals, a testament to the abilities of both performers.
Alongside the outstanding performances by the two leads, Caroline Quentin excels as the Duchess, who knew she could sing and dance like that?, Clive Rowe provides great support as her long-time companion Sir John and Jennie Dale delivers a fun turn as the solicitor Parchester. Amongst the other many talented members of the company Siubhan Harrison as the scheming Lady Carstone and Jak Skelly as the unflappable butler Charles stand out.
As noted by Stephen Fry in the programme, this is a musical that has its roots in English music hall and is far removed from anything that Broadway produced. Full of catchy songs and vibrant dance routines, don’t expect to ponder the depth of the characters or any complexities in the plot, but expect to hear the Lambeth Walk gong round in your head for days afterwards. Prepare yourself as well for some corny puns and while these might not be to everyone’s taste they were certainly lapped up by tonight’s audience.
The choreography by Alistair David is excellent throughout, from small-scale routines to full company footstompers not a beat is missed or a tap out of place, the whole company perform with such a sense of gusto and fun that it is impossible not to get swept up with it all. Helping this along is the musical direction of Gareth Valentine faultlessly performing all the tunes whilst adding a few little extra snippets to supplement the dialogue on stage.
This isn’t high art or high drama, and has no pretentions to be either, but it is high entertainment and judging by the prolonged standing ovation given to the entire cast this evening everyone felt thoroughly entertained
Runs until 25August 2018 | Image: Johan Persson