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Posts Tagged ‘Will Keith’

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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Bad Girls was a TV show which, between 1999 and 2006, had eight series and over 100 episodes. The sort of show that you’d expect to be a cult was actually ITV mainstream. The public seemed to take to its combination of serious and light storylines with a touch of lesbian homoeroticism! The same team gave us five series of Footballers Wives during the latter part of same period, and both share a larger-than-life exaggerated OTT style. After the final series, writers Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus teamed up with Kath Gotts on this musical, which premiered in Leeds before a West End run which only lasted three months, including previews. I quite liked it at the time, though it didn’t wow me, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to take in this fringe revival at the Union Theatre.

Set in a fictitious women’s prison, we follow the lives of a variety of inmates, incarcerated for anything from shoplifting to murder. Two of the screws are old school, but the wing governor is very much a new broom. Shell and Denny are the unofficial leaders of the bad girls, though the arrival of gangster’s girlfriend Yvonne challenges them. Officer Fenner uses some of the girls for sex and new inmate, young Rachel, imprisoned for possession of drugs with intent to supply, becomes his latest target. This leads to tragedy, a violent reaction from the rest of the prisoners and a blame game amongst the prison staff. There’s a sub-plot involving an on-off lesbian relationship between the wing governor Helen and prisoner Nikki.

The score was better than I remembered and the lyrics particularly good, and the musical standards were high. It’s performed by an excellent cast of seventeen. Of the staff, I particularly liked the bad guys – predatory Fenner played by Gareth Davies and his old school ally ‘Bodybag’ played by Maggie Robson. Sinead Long plays a very plausible con and Christine Holman commands the stage as Yvonne. There’s a lovely pair of Julie’s, responsible for the food, played by Jayne Ashley and Catherine Digges. The Union space doesn’t need much of a makeover to turn it into a prison (!), so the design focus is on Jess Philips’ spot-on costumes. I thought it was a great use of the space, in a traverse setting that worked a lot better than they sometimes do, and the choreography of the ensemble pieces by Jo McShane was particularly effective. My only gripes with Will Keith’s production is that it was nowhere near tongue-in-cheek enough, and overlong at almost 2h40m, partly caused by overlong scene changes.

It’s not a great musical, but its worth catching this small-scale revival.

 

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The history of this 45-year old show is fascinating. Written by Jules Styne no less, based on an Arnold Bennett book and with Vincent Price & Patricia Routledge leading the original cast, it lost three directors and five librettists en route to Broadway. It closed after a month, though it won a ‘posthumous’ Tony for Routledge.

In this British premiere at the enterprising Union Theatre, it proves to be deeply old-fashioned, but I did succumb to its charms and the opportunity to see it is very welcome. Despite being a big musicals ‘name’, this was one of a lot of Styne shows this musicals lover had never even heard of – some 80% of what he actually wrote!

When a valet dies, the doctor certifying his death thinks he’s Priam Farll, his famous artist employer. At first protesting, Farll soon sees this as a welcome opportunity for anonymity. He marries the valet’s intended (Alice Challice!) and settles in Putney, a part of London seemingly inhabited by chirpy cockneys (!), which is maybe why I kept comparing it with Me & My Girl. Art dealer Clive Oxford and art collector Lady Vale continue to exploit Farll, whose value soars as he is buried in Westminster Abbey and posthumously knighted.

It’s all rather daft, with a somewhat preposterous relationship between Priam & Alice sitting alongside a more plausible satire on the art world. Even The King makes an appearance! The music is a bit sweet for a contemporary audience, though its amusing lyrically (who can resist rhyming museum with dream and lucky with duckie!). Yet, somehow it does win you over – perhaps because Paul Foster’s production has its tongue in its cheek and the cast clearly having a lot of fun is rather infectious.

The two leading ladies, Katy Secombe and Rebecca Caine, are in fine voice. The leading men, James Dinsmore and Michael Hobbs, less so – but it doesn’t really matter. The ensemble is excellent, which makes both the choruses and Matt Flint’s sprightly dances great. In addition to two Secombe’s (brother Andy plays a handful of key roles, including the deceased), there’s a dead ringer for Robbie Williams – Will Keith.

In the first few minutes, I wasn’t convinced I’d make it to the end, but it did win me over. I suspect it might be another 45 years before London sees it again, but I’m glad I did. Now I’m wondering what the other 20 I’ve never heard of are like!

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