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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Lancashire’

Time to reach for the superlatives thesaurus…..

This musical comedy is based on Alan Bennett’s film A Private Function which featured Maggie Smith & Michael Palin (that’s three national treasures in one sentence!). It’s set in post-war Britain, with rationing still in place and a royal wedding about to take place (sounds familiar?). The (mildly) corrupt local councilors and businessmen are fattening an illicit pig for a banquet to mark the occasion whilst normal folk (this is ‘up north’ after all) can’t even get a pork chop, partly due to an eager meat inspector who keeps closing down the butchers. It’s pretty faithful to the film (though it’s a long time since I saw it last) with the notable exception of the ending.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed and smiled so much at a musical. Americans Ron Cowan & Daniel Lipman have produced a thoroughly British and extremely funny book perfectly matched by Anthony Drew’s deliciously witty lyrics. George Stiles music is also thoroughly British – but also completely infectious (copious whistles from the audience as they left the theatre). Richard Eyre hasn’t directed that many musicals but his staging for this one is up there with his Olivier Guys & Dolls, still the definitive production of this show, this time with the benefit of Stephen Mears’ witty choreography – yes witty choreography! Tim Hatley’s simple sets allow the show to zip along.

You’d have thought Sarah Lancashire has spent her whole life on a West End stage, such is her confidence and presence, with knowing smiles that seem to be directed to you personally – but it’s actually only her third time in the West End. She has a great voice, moves fluidly with such grace and you just fall in love with her within minutes – for me, she’s got the 2011 awards in the bag already. One of those slips of paper fell out of the programme as we entered – leading man Reece Shearsmith wasn’t performing and it was to be understudy Neill Ditt first performance. Well, I refuse to believe Shearsmith is better; apart from a few minor glitches and with some discreet help from his colleagues, he delivered an extraordinary performance of great charm and distinction that perfectly matched his leading lady. This must surely be his career high – and he got the biggest ovation of the night!

Singling out others in this wonderful company is going to be tough, but I have to mention octogenarian Ann Emery delivering another gem to match her grandma in Billy Elliott, Adrian Scarborough’s delicious cartoon baddie meat inspector, Jack Edwards great turn as pig loving Allardyce and another brilliant baddie from David Bamber as local doctor and head of the council.

I’ve waited twenty years (since Just So at the Tricycle) for Stiles & Drew’s masterpiece and here it is. I consider Billy Elliott the greatest British musical of all time; I think this might be this is the greatest British musical comedy of all time. Though apparently not intentional, the timing of the opening couldn’t have been better and Cameron Mackintosh has a stonking great big hit on his hands. I’ve booked to go back and I’m already seriously over-excited. Bliss.

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