Writer: Julian Clary
Director: Lee Lyford
Music: Simon Wallace
Lyrics: Julian Clary and Simon Wallace
It might come as a shock to some, but Julian Clary can be quite pure and wholesome at times. His series of children’s books, The Bolds, is perfectly pitched at the 6-year-old connoisseur of mild fart jokes who is bemused by the silliness of the adult world, appreciates the value of friendship and difference, and knows there are times when we must be brave.
This brilliant new musical is the recognisable stage version of the first Bolds book which, judging from the audience on press night, has found a few committed fans since its 2015 launch. It follows a pair of hyenas as they take on the lives and identities of a couple of tourists who get eaten while on safari. As Mr. and Mrs. Bold, the couple move from the wilds of Tanzania to gentle Teddington, getting jobs as a Christmas cracker joke writer (well, what else is an unemployed laughing hyena to do) and a hatmaker with a market stall. They have two young pups, and everything seems fine until the twin difficulties of a nasty neighbour (Mr. McNumpty) and a touch of homesickness come together. They embark on an ambitious heist to rescue an old hyena they meet in a safari park, but will they have everything fixed in time for Christmas?
It’s a great piece of writing for a young audience. It meets them at their level without being condescending in any way, and is a lot of fun to boot. It takes a lot of effort to get things this simple and straightforward, especially in a piece of work that deals with big questions. The songs especially are smart, really advancing our understanding of the family and their situation in a highly engaging and succinct way. None will stick in the mind for too long, perhaps apart from the work song they all sing which has a catchy “hoo, ha, hoo, hahaha” repeat line in it.
For those who raise an eyebrow at Clary’s clean and family friendly vibe, feel free to relax it again. He retains the innocent tone throughout, but he can’t resist the odd and fairly gentle double entendre for the grown-ups (a snip at Love Island here, a joke about iced rings there). There’s also some great panto elements with the Bolds asking the kids in the audience if British people laugh, and laying out some terrible (or excellent, depending on perspective) Christmas cracker jokes.
As the main couple David Ahmad and Amanda Gordon are joyful, energetic, caring and exactly how you would want a strong set of human parents to be. Sam Swann and Mae Munuo as Bobby and Betty are bouncy and playful, just like puppies should be. As the nasty neighbour, Mr McNumpty Sam Pay is a bit scary at times, but turns out to be a sweetie at the end. It all plays out in James Button’s lovely set. He’s given us intelligent simplicity with clear lines and big colours, and even a terrific see-through car for the Bolds to drive around in.
It peters out a little at the end. A compressed timeline means a bit of a jumble of friendship and forgiveness with Mr. McNumpty. While that’s a minor disappointment it’s not a huge deal. The message is laid out through the story; have fun, be accepting, make jokes and friends, and be courageous when it comes to doing good. It’s a shining example of thoughtful theatre for kids, and the hoots of laughter through this show from the young audience proved it.
Runs until 31 December 2021