Book: Abi Grant &Alex Armitage
Music: Noel Gay
Choreographer: Alistair David
Director: Caroline Leslie
Reviewer: Kathryn M. Bartlett
The show is set within Piccadilly’s Criterion Theatre during 1940’s war-torn London. The audience initially view the cast of the radio show, Variety Bandwagon, finding and rehearsing material for their imminent on-air programme and their comedic antics as they endeavour to dodge strict BBC content and licensing policies and the wrath of BBC producer Heathcliffe Bultitude (John Conroy). We then assume our rôle as the real audience to the actual transmission of the radio broadcast – complete with a brief breaking the fourth-wall to an audience member and amusing participation in following the commands of the applause prompt cards that pre-empt each performer’s on-stage entrance and exit. Against this backdrop, in part, is the poignancy of the war-stricken time. Alongside are the stories of gadabout Sammy “I’m doing it” Shaw (Gary Wilmot) and his somewhat neglected girlfriend Olive James (Sara Crowe); the, at first, unrequited love of the shy Jeeps (fantastically played by Christian Edwards), for lead ensemble-lady, Amy Chapman (Vivien Carter); the emergence of Olive’s old-flame, film-star Gary String (Michael Hobbs) and many off-stage laugh-out-loud jolly japes and humorous puns, that stay just on the right side of cheesiness, tickle every rib and keep you chuckling and easily beaming throughout.
Wilmot is the perfect showman, the epitome of charm, charisma, talent with exact, yet natural, comic timing.
Wilf (Ben Fox) is totally in sync’ as Sammy’s right hand man and often other half to his witty banter, helping to deliver believable one-liners and punch lines, that however predictable, will have you rolling in the aisles.
Not to overlook the rest of the players, this is a cast truly worthy of name-checking each and every member. Swiftly and seamlessly moving from one guise and stage-position to another, not only do the whole cast act, sing and dance wonderfully, with convincing and pleasing character portrayals, they are extremely multi-talented and versatile as they provide all the musical accompaniment while on-stage too – whether in amazing synchronised ukulele or kazoo playing, or from drums to clarinet, piano to saxophone. The calibre of the latter, along with excellent sound production, creates a wonderful, rich, big band sound, in which every facet, musical note, and instrument has clarity and impressive audibility, adding a further dimension to the already hugely enjoyable show. This cast hits all the targets; definitely triple-threats and then some!
The simplistic set of the period radio sound-stage is honest and credible, and the lighting is on-the-ball; atmospheric and unobtrusive, but accurate. Even from a distance the actors’ features are clear and crisp.
Although overall a simple narrative, the show is bursting at the seams with high velocity, punchy, all-round brilliant entertainment, with some crazy-but-fun, off-the-wall lunacy thrown in for good measure; and a complete consummate, professional cast overflowing with genuine star quality.
If you haven’t heard of the show before – do not worry. If you haven’t heard of the songs – do not worry. As soon as you step into the world of Radio Times The Musical, it becomes an instant, well-loved, familiar favourite, that will keep you smiling and laughing insanely for weeks.