Let me start this review with one fact about me – I do not like audience participation. At least, I didn’t think I did. When I was handed a song sheet on my way into an auditorium full of cast members leading a preshow sing-a-long of Music Hall classics, I thought I was in hell. Admittedly I did not make any attempt to join in the preshow but by the interval I was too caught up in belting out songs about father decorating the parlour and some girl with long hair that my drink remained untouched – a first time for everything!
It must have been the charming first act of endless laughs and wonderfully drawn characters which caused me to let down my ‘anti-participation barrier’ as I found myself booing and cheering along with the packed out house at the show’s new home – The Arts Theatre, Leicester Square. It was very pleasing to see a theatre (albeit a smaller one) buzzing with a large crowd after spending far too many of my recent outings in sparsely populated auditoriums watching disheartened casts try their upmost to make the best of an empty midweek show.
I liked many things about this production but the one thing which left me most satisfied was the use of its ‘star name’, Wendi Peters. Yes, she may have her face and name on the poster but when it came down to her performance, she was a member of the cast who worked just as hard as anyone else and looked in her element taking part in the rousing company numbers which complimented and, to my mind, made the production. Despite her having quite an impressive theatrical background, most people will remember Peters from her days in Coronation Street and nothing made me happier to see a soap star returning to the stage who actually has the talent to carry a part. She is a revelation in the double role of Angela Prysock/Princess Puffer.
The production itself transfers brilliantly into the Arts Theatre. The cast make full use of two staircases leading from the stage to the auditorium and also appear regularly in the balcony making sure that the audience are completely involved regardless of their seats. The sound of the show really benefits from the larger sound system with the cast perfectly in balance with the brilliant orchestra under the baton of James Cleeve.
There are excellent performances overall from a very hardworking cast. My one grumble would be Daniel Robinson as Clive Paget/John Jasper who, despite seeming an incredibly talented performer with a lovely voice, didn’t quite grasp the ‘Music Hall’ style of acting as the rest of the cast did. Stand out performances for me were from Loula Geater as Janet Conover/Helena Landless and Tom Pepper as Nick Cricker/Deputy; both of whom I struggled to peel my eyes from during the scenes and production numbers.
The ‘audience vote’ towards the end of the show really makes the evening and adds such a unique touch of fun to the piece. Talking to other audience members after the show I was very pleased to hear that the ending is actually different every night, the vote is not just a very well-acted diversion!
All in all, a very enjoyable evening and a production which deserves so much more than just 35 performances in town. I whole heartedly recommend it – I will definitely be returning before it closes.
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By David Coverdale @davidcoverdale9
18th May - 17th June 2012
Arts Theatre, London, WC2.