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Posts Tagged ‘Suzie Chard’

I missed the (imaginary!) curtain the first time I tried to see this a couple of weeks ago, so I’m a bit late to the party, but a party it is and I’m very glad I caught it, though its only four years since I saw it at Soho Theatre.

George Stiles, Anthony Drew and Elliott Davies’ contemporary spin on the classic fairy-tale finds us in seedy Soho with gay Robbie as our Cinderella character running his late mum’s launderette with his friend Velcro and his ugly sisters Clodagh and Dana running a strip-club across the road. Our Prince is James Prince, mayoral candidate, in the closet. Robbie has a sugar daddy, Lord Bellingham, who’s a major donor to James’ campaign. Spin doctor William George is our baddie. It all kicks off at the fundraising ball hosted by Lord Bellingham when Robbie’s connections to both the Lord and the Prince are revealed.

It has some of Stiles best tunes and Drew’s lyrics and Drew & Davies’ book are very clever and very funny, but have more serious and tender moments too. The musical standards are very high and there’s witty, athletic choreography that fills the Union space by Joanne McShane. I think it’s only Will Keith’s third show flying solo as director and a fine job he’s done too.

The ugly sisters are show-stealing roles for girls willing to give it their all and that’s exactly what Suzie Chard & Beverly Rudd did in Soho and what Michaela Stern & Natalie Harman do here – terrific. That said, the rest of the leads are excellent and the ensemble is packed full of talent, enthusiasm and energy. Joshua Lewindon is a charming Robbie and Lewis Asquith has great presence, and a great voice, as James. I was hugely impressed by Emily Deamer as Velcro, particularly in her scenes with Lowri Walton, also excellent as Prince’s girlfriend Marilyn.

A great, more seasonal revival, well worth catching in its last five days.

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When I went to see the workshop of this new adaptation of Joan Littlewood / Frank Norman / Lionel Bart’s 1959 show, I enjoyed it very much but never expected it to turn out this good. Elliot Davies has added songs like Do You Mind? and Living Doll from the Lional Bart ‘songbook’ to turn the show from a play-with-music into a fully fledged musical – and it works very well indeed.

We’re in a seedy Soho club in the 50’s with loveable rogues and prostitutes. It centres on club owner Fred and his ex-brass girlfriend Lil and pimp Tosher and his working girls Betty, Brenda & Margaret. Bent copper PC Collins pays regular visits to collect his cut and Paddy becomes a fixture when he wins half the club in a game of cards. Meatface (offstage) presents their greatest threat. Innocent homeless Rosie gets taken in and adopted by the girls, exploited by Tosher and hurt by Meatface. Petty criminal Red Hot takes refuge on release from prison. Outrageously camp Horace is invited in to give them a makeover and posh Percy & even posher Myrtle come to the subsequent re-opening. We love them all (well, apart from Meatface, obviously).

Writer Frank Norman was from this world, so the story, characters and situations ooze authenticity, albeit a little caricatured and romanticised. William Dudley (where has he been recently?) has created a brilliantly authentic club to match, with clever projections onto the skylights. Terry Johnson’s staging and Nathan M Wright’s choreography make it all sparkle. Above all, though, it’s the perfect casting that is probably its greatest success. I’ve only seen East Ender Jessie Wallace in Rent; here’s she’s so much more at home as Lil, with a surprisingly good voice. Mark Arden couldn’t look more the part if he had the best make-up and prosthetics money can buy; he’s the embodiment of Fred. I’ve admired Suzie Chard for a while and it’s great to see her commanding the stage and sometimes stealing the show as Betty. You love to hate but can’t help loving Stefan Booth’s Tosher and Sarah Middelton’s Rosie melts your heart with her gorgeous voice. There’s are terrific cameos from Christopher Ryan as Red Hot (there’s a delicious moment when he’s singing along to Living Doll, famously revived by The Young Ones – of which he was one – with Cliff Richard for Comic Relief) and Ryan Molloy as camp designer Horace who sweeps in and sweeps you away.

Of course, we’re back where it started at the Theatre Royal Stratford East where it fits like a glove, proving a right old East End knees-up. A treat.

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I’ve been a fan of Stiles & Drew since Honk. They’re not particularly prolific, but last year brought us – in my view – the best new musical of the year in Betty Blue Eyes. It looks like they may have done it again in 2012.

This is an inventive, modern & very radical updating of the Cinderella story. Cinderella is a gay male escort with step-sisters who run a Soho strip club. Buttons is a girl called Velcro (!) who runs the launderette below his flat and the prince is a London mayoral candidate! Stephen Fry is an off-stage narrator (he was actually in the row behind me). It may sound preposterous but it works! Some of Anthony Drewe & Elliott Davies’ book and Drewe’s lyrics are corny, but for me that’s part of its charm. It’s a very pop score which may prove one of George Stiles’ best.

Designer Morgan Large’s backdrop is a street scene with giant neon signage telling you we’re in Old Compton Street, W1 which allows speedy movement from location to location. His costumes for the step-sisters are hysterical. There’s some excellent choreography from Drew McOnie and Jonathan Butterell has staged it with pace, humour and just a touch of sentimentality.

What makes it though is a hugely talented cast. Tom Milner is a real find as Robbie (Cinders). Though he’s done much TV, this is his stage debut; he has bucketloads of charm and a fine voice. Amy Lennox is just as good as Velcro, a bit dim but ever so lovable. They are both upstaged in the comedy department by the simply terrific double act of Suzy Chard and Beverley Rudd as step-sisters Clodah & Dana; brilliant creations in every way. Gerard Carey is a great baddie as spin doctor George and Michael Xavier continues to impress, here perfectly cast as the Tory ex-swimming champion with a secret. The wonderful Jenna Russell is underutilized as his fiancée Marilyn, but she has excellent chemistry with Xavier and she sings and acts beautifully, particularly when betrayed – it must be hard to provide the serious side to a largely rumbustious story.

This was such a heart-warming uplifting evening. You’ll have to accept its risque content and grossness (the sisters!), but you will be rewarded with lots of laughs and some lovely music, but ultimately a story for our times. This isn’t actually that implausible!

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When I can travel in time, I will go to a lot of first nights of iconic shows. One of them will be in 1959 for the opening of Joan Littlewood’s original Theatre Workshop production of this show at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.

I’ve been banging on about the lack of revivals of British musicals, particularly those of Lionel Bart and Howard Goodall, and now we get one of each in successive months. In truth, this one is a bit light on story but it’s got good songs and makes you nostalgic for a singalong in an old East End boozer.

Having never seen the show, I don’t know how much is this production (depiction of the Krays?) and how much is faithful to the original, but given the original was partly improvised, it seems fair game to change it. It certainly comes up fresh, though the cockney’s are all now more caricatures and stereotypes.

When it transferred to the West End, they didn’t comply entirely with censor Lord Chamberlain’s demands for cuts and after he visited (according to Frank Norman, on whose book it is based,) he asked for the following:

  1. The interior decorator is not to be played as a homosexual
  2. The labourer is not to carry the plank of wood in the erotic place and at the erotic angle that he does
  3. Tosher is not to put his hand on Red Hot’s bottom with finger aligned as he does at the moment and not to push her backwards against the table when dancing in such a manner that her legs appear through his open legs in a manner indicative of copulation (this is a particular puzzle, as Red Hot as a male character!)

Well, a lot changes in 50 years and Phil Wilmot’s production at the Union Theatre seems to be more faithful to the pre-censored edition than the post-censored edition. It’s actually rather racy, probably more than it was but maybe as they’d have liked at the time.

We’re in a brothel in Soho, whose owner Fred has just left prison to find things in his manor somewhat different. His long-suffering girlfriend Lil has been keeping things running, but the power balance has changed. There are working girls, lovable rogues, a hapless thief, a camp interior decorator, a toff and a few harmless coppers. Fred sells the ‘club’ to the retiring police inspector and his working girlfriend and finally marries Lil. The characters Fred and Lil owe a lot to Nathan and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, as indeed does the show –well, in a seedier and tackier way.

The staging really is spot on with excellent choreography from Nick Winston and Oliver Townsend’s design makes great use of the Union Theatre space. Hannah-Jane Fox and Neil McCall are great as Fred and Lil, with excellent chemistry, and have superb support from Susie Chard & Ruth Alfie Adams as girls, Jo Parsons as Tosher & Robert Donald as Red Hot and Hadrian Delacey as the police inspector. I’m afraid Richard Foster-King over-acted mercilessly as interior decorator Horace (which a cast member’s uninhibited granddad pointed out loudly at the time!). The East End boozer feel was helped at the performance I attended by granddad’s companions – a large group of a cast member’s cockney family and friends who whooped, screeched, cheered and, well, sang along.

This is a rare and very welcome revival that comes out fresh and funny and another feather in the Union’s cap.

 

 

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