"why don't you go fuck a play" Boy George, by Twitter 18.7.2012

Saturday, 18 December 2010


If you’re the kind of sentimental old purist who remembers Mary Martin in the title role, and the words “second star to the right and straight on till morning” still bring a lump to your throat – this is not the Pan for you. This is a modern, popular-culture-on-steroids, musically throbbing show and light years’ flying distance from J M Barrie’s fireside story.

What it lacks in subtlety or adherence to the plot it makes up for with the energy of the ensemble performances led by a Priscilla-derived trio of Motown divas – Nadine Higgin, Donna Hines and Tasheka Coe who carry the singing load (presumably because the principals can’t) with stunning voices and punctuating the action with a series of punchy numbers and sparkly frocks until you’re not sure whether this is panto or promo for Destiny’s Child. They’re called the Pan-ettes, but assessing the carbohydrate load of one or two of them, Paninis might have been funnier.

David Hasselhoff isn’t Ian McKellen. But he isn’t rubbish either, tall enough to invite a sort of totemic admiration merely for being there he turns in a more than adequate performance as a nervously under-confident Hook who ultimately charms rather than frightens the little kiddies, and the knowing references to ‘Knight Rider’ and ‘Baywatch’ are very well-handled. He is not out of his depth.

In contrast, there is no pit of adjectival condemnation deep enough in which to drown Mr Louie Spence, who appears as Roger the Cabin Boy.

I had no previous exposure to the toxic radiation of this character, which I now consider to be the sort of lucky escape you’d have had to be weekending away from Chernobyl in April 1986 - but thanks to Wikipedia I understand he’s a ‘dance expert’ and that overused oxymoron ‘television personality’ whose reputation is fuelled by appearances in tabloid magazines and his own show on Sky 1.

It’s amazing what you can miss if you go out in the evenings.

His wriggling, arse-spreading, tit-flashing, hyperbolically vulgar camp performance is so revolting that it should come with a health warning ‘Not Suitable For Children’. Or Adults. The constant and undisguised references to his sexual appetite and capacity are so far removed from either the clever innuendo tradition of Pantomime where the lewd jokes go over the children’s heads – with Spence’s shockingly nasty aim they’d probably get it in the eye - or from the boundaries of taste and inappropriate stereotyping that you wonder what Wimbledon was thinking of in casting him. Perhaps he’s part of their outreach programme to employ someone with such a disabling speech impediment?

Mr Louie Spence courting tabloid publicity, copyright BigPictures/holymoly.com

On evenings when Mr Hasselhoff is unavailable, the role of Hook will be played by Jerry Springer. Let’s hope he gives Mr Spence the kind of feedback he gives to damaged personalities on his show.

In the rest of the cast, it’s worth praising Shane Knight who looks as if he may be Spence’s understudy but dances better, doubling Nana, a fey Pirate, an Indian and the excellent crocodile. Jaymz Denning leads the Pirate band with considerable charm, and dance captain Katherine Iles is engaging as Tiger Lily. Amy Bird is a rather too bland Wendy and Robert Rees, excellent in State Fair and Hobson’s Choice is not really given full rein in this production, and emerges as a somewhat grounded Peter. Nor are he and Bird allowed to sing until the final number which is a shame because they both have fine musical theatre voices.

There are ten sparkly sets, and the scene changes are slick enough to hold the young audience’s attention but sets, costumes and the Eric Potts script are thoroughly recycled, having done duty last year at Brighton Theatre Royal and previously at Woking and Bromley.

Wimbledon is lucky to have its enterprising theatre which delivers on so many levels, it’s unfortunate this glossy production is damaged by injudicious casting.

This review written for ThePublicReviews

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Twentieth Century. Limited.

Desperately trying to resuscitate his career and escape Chicago creditors, theatrical impresario Oscar Jaffee hops the Twentieth Century streamliner train for New York. In the next door sleeper resides his former muse turned Hollywood superstar Lily Garland.

In the 1978 Broadway and 1980 London productions there was orchestral sweep and solid grandeur in the fittings of the train, the jazz age costumes, and the panorama of scenery and effects as ‘in flight across the night America the beautiful rolls by’. This fitted with the witty script and inventiveness of the Betty Comden and Adolph Green lyrics, in what would be their last major success crowning a career stretching back to Singin’ in the Rain and On The Town. Written the year before the popular musical was shape-shifted for ever by Sweeney Todd and Evita, On The Twentieth Century belongs in that ‘last great traditional book musical’ category and still needs the production values of its genre.

Ryan McBryde’s production at the Union follows another superb Comden and Green show, Bells Are Ringing, and invites unfortunate contrast. Whereas Bells looked ready for an immediate West End transfer (and may yet make the leap when theatres come free in the spring) Twentieth Century serves more as a memo to producers with deeper pockets to say what a great script and brilliant Cy (Sweet Charity) Coleman score it has.

Unfortunately not in the hands of this band where a misguided MD has set it for five saxophones and a piano, thereby burying one of the best and most symphonically seamless overtures in musical theatre.

Not that the performances are poor - quite the reverse - Rebecca Vere shines as Lily and sings both the operetta and the show tunes with class, although Kathryn Evans in the 1997 chamber production at the Bridewell was more overtly comic. Valda Aviks infuses the mad philanthropist Mrs Primrose with charm and cunning and her appearances are all a delight. The ironic casting of diminutive Howard Samuels as the towering knight of Broadway Oscar Jaffee may test you more. He’s funny and sings accurately but something powerful was missing, at least from the preview performance.

Since the original boasted a cast of about 45, it’s hard to believe this is performed by just 11 because they really do fill the stage with all the principals sharing the roles of the ensemble and managing some glorious harmonies in their unmiked singing. With the inevitable doubling and trebling some of the smaller characterizations are necessarily a bit cartoony, but as Jaffe’s longsuffering henchmen, Matt Harrop and particularly the Captain Pugwash-like Chris David Storer are first rate.

The scant set and indifferent lighting show up the shabbiness of the venue, and the confines of a train don’t really allow for elaborate dance choreography, although Drew McOnie’s movement and staging was well-executed by the enthusiastic cast. The home made special effects, including a shoe-brush-on-tea-tray steam train, and torch lit transfiguration, are superb.

At Tuesday’s opening, I was thrilled to discover that The Stage critic Mark Shenton is as big a fan of this musical as I am, although PaulinLondon felt Shenton was somewhat better at suppressing his desire to sing along.

It ran 2 hours 45. The show needs tightening and if licensing allows, judicious cuts.

This review written for Londonist.com