(seen at the afternoon preview performance on 13th October 2018)
Rather like “The Book Of Mormon,” the monkey’s opinion can be divided into two
totally conflicting viewpoints. Either this show is a brilliant contemporary
re-invention, with the inspired idea of role-reversal and gender-fluidity in
making the lead female and altering the casting around it... or, well, frankly
and to use a famous “The Apprentice” quote, “it takes logic and twists it until
The highest praise possible for director Marianne Elliott is that
she has taken her concept, run with it and shaped the whole with the will of
re-enforced concrete. Her creativity is the metal bars on which the liquid cast
are poured, and the finished show is set solid.
There’s wonderful work from
Bunny Christie, beautiful sets slide in, out, up and down and witty ideas abound
– Sam Davis coming up with some good party moves and Chris Fisher helping with
illusions. Neil Austin’s lighting is impressive, particularly when requiring to
direct focus on a single aspect of an actor, and Ian Dickson makes sure that any
missed words are no fault of the sound desk.
From the cast, Rosalie Craig
(Bobbie) had been off for the odd performance the week before the monkey saw the
show, and it wasn’t sure her voice had entirely recovered. Still, she was vivid
in her red dress – so much so that the “dream sequence” of the re-discovered
“Tick Tock” worked all the better for it.
Headliner Patti Lupone (Joanne)
hovered as a maleficent presence, spouting truths and one-liners, and just doing
what comes naturally for “The Ladies Who Lunch.”
Jennifer Saayeng (Jenny)
brought warm and humour to her role, while Gavin Spokes (Harry) did his best to
make wife Mel Giedroyc (Sarah) look as good as possible in their work together.
The problems for the monkey came in the larger set-pieces. It could be that
Jonathan Bailey (Jamie) and Alex Gaumond (Paul) were as brilliantly funny as the
audience reaction suggested, or that they saved an utter disaster of a
re-written “Getting Married Today” that made an horrific bonfire of everything
gay people have fought for, for so long. The original had a woman collapse under
social pressures built up over centuries. It just doesn't apply in the same way
here, was the monkey's feeling.
A truly horrible necessary re-working of
“Someone is Waiting” lost the entire lyricism and became confusing as the
original male sensuality and evocation of the song are sacrificed and not
replaced by similar female feelings expressed.
Likewise, Richard Fleeshman
(Andy) either provided comic relief or simply fell victim to the skewed emotions
thrown up by “Barcelona,” where much of the original sentiments rooted in
masculinity are lost, to the monkey mind, as least.
The only truly gruesome
notes, though, were George Blagden (PJ) and “Another Hundred People” which
updated smartly enough but lost any urgency – even if it did justify its place
in the show as a dating history more clearly than any previous version the
monkey has seen. Some very clumsy blocking at the start of “Being Alive” also
wrecked that for those on the “high numbers” side of the house in the front
rows, too, alas.
An experiment perhaps better left to the fringe? A deftly
mounted and visually as well as intellectually exciting event? It depends how
willing you are to suspend disbelieve and accept what you are being given about
sexuality and equality, is the monkey conclusion.
Three stars. Two if you go with one school of thought, 4 going with the other so
it all averages out.