Festival Theatre

South Pacific

26/10/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s classic musical, first performed in 1949, is revived here in a touring production from Chichester Festival Theatre, which is handsomely mounted and features a thirty-strong cast. Peter McIntosh’s impressive set designs are built around a revolving stage and utilise atmospheric back projection, while tables, chairs and other props appear to float magically downwards from the heavens.

We are on a tropical island during the Second World War, where American troops are stationed in preparation for the coming conflict with Japanese invaders. The Tonkinese people of the island have learned to fit in with – and even profit from – their American visitors. Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil, whose ethereal voice is a highlight of the piece) now runs a flourishing trade in grass skirts, which the troops buy as souvenirs to send back to their families. Meanwhile, long-time resident and plantation owner, Emil de Beque (Julian Ovenden), has been romancing naïve young ensign, Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck), and impulsively proposes to her. She’s all for the idea of marriage – until she discovers that Emile has two children and that his deceased wife was Tonkinese – or ‘coloured’ as she puts it.

The audible gasps of discomfort from the audience at this point are a reminder that South Pacific is very much of its time. There’s been no attempt to adapt the piece for more contemporary audiences. Of course, the message is supposed to be anti-racist – the point is addressed in a song by Lt Joseph Cable (Rob Houchen), who points out that bigotry is handed down through the generations, learned rather than innate – but a contemporary lens might also look upon the exotic ceremonies carried out on the sacred island of Bali Hai as ‘othering’, and wonder why there’s no concern about the unequal relationship between the white plantation owner and his native servants.

Musically, this production has plenty to offer – there’s a fine live orchestra providing sumptuous backing to Divenden’s powerful, almost operatic voice. There are Liat (Sera Maehara)’s elegant dance moves; she seems, at times, to virtually float across the stage. Dougie McMeekin offers nicely-judged comic relief as wheeler-dealer, Luther Billis. And, of course there’s a whole clutch of classic songs, recognisable even to an audience who may not be familiar with the musical itself. The production’s most rousing moments are when the ensemble is belting out spirited pieces such as ‘There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame,’ or ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.’

If South Pacific has shortcomings they lie in the script, which was originally adapted from a series of short stories by James A Michener. The plodding storyline sometimes feels disconcertingly pedestrian – and too often, we’re fobbed off by being told about something that’s happened offstage, rather than actually being shown it. The final ‘action’ set piece, built around a jungle skirmish, feels particularly sketchy, and the death of an important character is carelessly thrown away.

Still, there’s plenty to like here and judging by the exuberant cheers that greet the final curtain, there are many in tonight’s audience who are thrilled by this trip down memory lane.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Though This Be Madness

22/05/22

The Studio, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Though This Be Madness deals with both the micro and the macrocosm: a study of one woman’s mental health, and a record of her place in a long line of other women. She is daughter, sister, mother. She is Shakespeare’s heroines.

This is Skye Loneragan’s scattershot depiction of a new mother, struggling to finish a sentence without being interrupted by a baby’s cry, and it’s a haphazard, palpably stressful piece. ‘The Land of the Lounge Room’ is messy, with toys strewn everywhere, and our protagonist has given up trying to tidy them away. There’s no point, is there? Her body’s been ravaged; she doesn’t remember what sleep feels like; her doctor’s unsympathetic and her mother thinks she shares too much. Oh, and her sister’s schizophrenic.

There’s a lot to process here. The fragmented, unstructured narrative works well to convey a sense of disconnection and distraction, but it also means that not everything lands, and that some interesting ideas are lost in the chaos. The references to Shakespeare’s women, in particular, feel under-explored.

Loneragan is an engaging performer (with exemplary mime skills). I like the symbolism of the post-it notes and the overt circularity of the piece, and Mairi Campbell’s music lends it an eerie – almost hypnotic – air. In the end, however, I can’t help feeling this piece is both too much and too little: too many ideas for the short running time, and too little made of the best of them.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Anything Goes

11/05/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Until tonight, I’m only aware of Anything Goes as the ‘rubbish’ musical that drama teacher Mr G bins off when he’s left in charge of the school play in Summer Heights High – in order to replace it with a highly questionable self-penned piece (Mr G is not a reliable barometer). Of course, I have gleaned a few clues from the poster (definitely nautical) and from Bonnie Langford’s billing (all-singing, all-dancing), although Simon Callow’s presence is more of a puzzle. And, sadly, Simon Callow isn’t present tonight, so I never get to solve that particular enigma. Still, his understudy, Clive Heyward, puts in an excellent turn as boozy gazillionaire Elisha Whitney, truly owning the role.

Anything Goes, it turns out, is exactly the sort of old-fashioned glitz-and-glamour musical I like the best, with lots of big, bold choreography, and a galumphing Cole Porter score. Of course, the story is nonsensical and ridiculously contrived, but it hardly matters: the plot is just a vehicle for the performances.

Reno Sweeney (Kerry Ellis) is a nightclub singer/evangelist, booked to entertain passengers on luxury ocean liner, the SS American. She is infatuated with Whitney’s assistant, Billy (Samuel Edwards), but he’s hopelessly in love with debutante Hope (Nicole-Lily Baisden). Hope loves him too, but she’s betrothed to bumbling English toff, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played by the aptly named Haydn Oakley, presumably no relation). Hope’s mother, Evangeline Harcourt (Langford), won’t allow her to call off the engagement, because Evelyn is rich, and the Harcourts are on their uppers. Throw in a couple of gangsters called Moonface and Erma (Denis Lawson and Carly Mercedes Dyer), put ’em all on the ship, and let the mayhem begin…

Reno is a demanding role, but Ellis is a prime example of a ‘triple threat’ – not only imbuing the evangelist with spark and charm, but also showcasing her impressive singing voice – all while hoofing it up with the best of them in some very peppy dance routines. She’s perfectly cast. Oakley is also delightfully amiable as Evelyn, effortlessly winning our sympathy. Co-book-writer PG Wodehouse’s imprint is all over this character, and Oakley makes the most of the opportunity to Bertie Wooster his way through the tale. Mercedes Dyer is another standout, dazzling both ship’s crew and audience alike with her sassy attitude.

The set (by Derek McClane) is pretty awe-inspiring, with a joyful nautical aesthetic and a real sense of scale: the ship feels vast and imposing.

But really, this is all about the big numbers, and director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall has pulled out all the stops. The ensemble cast is huge, and there is a palpable sense of a busy ocean liner, bursting with energy. It’s an unabashed celebration of theatricality, and I am absolutely spellbound by the extended version of the title song that ends the first act: the tap dancing is sublime. The second act quickly leads to another high, the fabulous Blow, Gabriel, Blow: it’s a real spectacle.

There’s nothing deep and meaningful to ponder here – except perhaps the strange nature of what constitutes “celebrity” – but that’s really not the point. If you’re after a bit of pure distraction, with some effortlessly glorious song and dance, then Anything Goes certainly fits the bill. Don’t listen to Mr G!

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Singin’ in the Rain

27/04/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Of all Hollywood’s great movie musicals, only one has consistently featured in critics ‘best film’ polls down the years and it is, of course, Singin’ in the Rain.

Released in 1952, at a time when the film industry was already starting to look back to its beginnings for inspiration, it had a lot going for it: Gene Kelly at the height of his terpsichorean powers, a nineteen-year-old Debbie Reynolds just beginning her ascent to stardom and the ever-dependable Donald O’ Connor providing inspirational comic relief. (Even now, if I’m down in the dumps, a viewing of his Make ’em Laugh routine is guaranteed to lift my spirits.) Throw in some top flight songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, a sprightly screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and and it’s no wonder that the film is so fondly remembered.

Of course a movie and a play are very different creatures. Suffice to say that any stage adaptation has some very big tap shoes to fill – so I’m delighted to report that this production, directed by Jonathan Church, is one of the most supremely entertaining shows I’ve seen in a very long time. Slick, assured, technically brilliant – it never puts a hoof wrong.

Don Lockwood (Sam Lips) and Lina Lamont (Faye Tozer) are the stars of a series of silent movies, swashbuckling romances beloved by the masses. Thanks to the publicity machine, everybody believes they are lovers in real life but, though Lina is under the impression this is actually true, Don is far from keen on the idea. As he tells his best friend, Cosmo Brown (Ross McLaren), he’s still looking for the right woman. He thinks he might have found her when he bumps into Kathy Selden (Charlotte Gooch), but is dismayed to discover that she’s not at all impressed by his movie star status. She tells him she’s a serious actor, who hopes one day to tread the boards of the New York stage. Ooh, hoity-toity!

But the year is 1927 and Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer – the first talking picture – has just been released. Don thinks it’s a fad that will soon be forgotten but, of course, it signals a seismic change in the industry. Within days it is breaking box office records and it quickly becomes clear that the latest Lockwood and Lamont epic, The Duelling Cavalier, is going to need some drastic remodelling before it can be successfully released. The only problem is Lamont, who has a broad Brooklyn accent delivered in a screeching tone.

Actually, this is the one part of the story that could raise hackles. Making fun of a regional accent would be a no-go zone in the contemporary world, but the fact that this is a period piece just about excuses it – and Tozer plays her part with such adept comic timing that I find myself laughing uproariously at her mangled intonation, particularly when she’s working with her ‘dialect coach’ (Sandra Dickinson).

But that’s my only caveat. Both Lips and Gooch have splendid chemistry together and McLaren manages to own the Make ’em Laugh routine, without attempting to deliver a carbon copy of the original. There are some very funny film extracts, the ensemble dance numbers are thrillingly executed and even the film’s extended Broadway Melody sequence is lovingly recreated, right down to the vibrant costumes, with Harriet Samuel-Gray handling the Cyd Charisse role with aplomb.

And to have so many memorable songs in one show seems almost unfair on the competition.

But of course, you might argue, how can this hope to work onstage without any actual rain? Rest assured, rain there is, in abundance. I can only marvel at the ingenuity involved in taking a travelling production around the country and adapting each and every venue so that water can bucket down onto the cast without causing major devastation. It’s no surprise that the orchestra are safely located backstage instead of in their usual pit. Their brief unveiling during the second overture foreshadows Kathy Selden’s famous moment of glory, as well as highlighting the frantic unseen action that underpins any theatrical production.

Singin’ in the Rain is a delight from start to finish. It never falters, never loses pace and manages to honour the great film that inspired it. Wandering out of the Festival Theatre, humming that famous signature tune, I’m almost disappointed to discover that it’s a cold, clear evening, with no hint of rain.

Well, I did say ‘almost.’

5 Stars

Philip Caveney

The Great Gatsby

21/04/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Regular readers of B&B may be somewhat surprised to see this review. We haven’t previously covered ballet, mainly because of a reluctance to show our general ignorance of the subject. But it is theatre, when all is said and done and, when we see that Northern Ballet’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is to visit the city, it seems the logical choice for a starting point. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel is a story we already know, so we should have no problem following the action. And so it proves.

Actually, on reflection, Gatsby seems an inspired choice for the tricky metamorphosis of literature-into-dance. For one thing, those jazz-age excesses are perfectly suited to the medium and, for another, many of the novel’s most memorable scenes are built around visual motifs: the blinking green light of the Buchanan’s home on the horizon; those lavish parties frequented by alcohol-fuelled celebrities; the distorted reflections in the infamous room of mirrors.

Jay Gatsby (Joseph Taylor) spends his days reminiscing about his lost relationship with Daisy Buchanan (Abigail Prudames), back when he was a young soldier. He even gets to dance alongside his younger self (Harris Beatty), before four men in black raincoats and derby hats step out of the shadows and neatly illustrate how criminal activities turn Gatsby into the rich socialite he is today.

But wealth and success haven’t dulled the longing he still harbours for Daisy, who now lives with her husband, Tom (Lorenzo Trossello), and their little daughter – an adorable performance by Rosa Di Rollo – in their home across the bay (cue that blinking green light).

Into this turbo-charged atmosphere dances Daisy’s naive cousin, Nick Carraway (Sean Bates), who soon befriends Gatsby and then can only watch in dismay as he and Daisy become ever more entangled in a relationship that will surely end in tragedy.

This stirring adaptation also feels curiously cinematic, an effect heightened by Jérôme Kaplan’s brilliant set design, which contrives to present physical events – even an entirely convincing road accident – with absolute authority. And the dancing, of course, is sublime. While I freely admit that I don’t know the difference between an arabesque and a jeté, I’m still enraptured by the cavalcade of physical perfection that whirls and leaps and pirouettes around the stage with apparent ease. I particularly enjoy the earthy physicality of Riko Ito as garage mechanic George Wilson, driven to distraction by his wife Myrtle (Minju Kang)’s affair with Tom Buchanan – and also the wonderfully accomplished ensemble pieces, where those epic parties of the roaring twenties are lavishly enacted in perfectly-tailored suits and glittering cocktail dresses.

The music of the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett provides the perfect accompaniment for the story, encompassing as it does elements of jazz, ragtime and sweeping, soulful grandeur. We even get to hear the great composer sing in the production’s penultimate piece, a heartfelt rendition of I Never Went Away, which offers a poignant preface to a brutal and shattering conclusion.

So there we have it it. As an introduction to an art form, The Great Gatsby offers everything I was hoping for. Also, it proves a propitious night for a first foray into ballet, as long time choreographer and director David Nixon OBE is about to step down from the role he’s occupied for twenty-one years.

An emotional onstage presentation duly ensues and a heartfelt standing ovation caps an evening that will linger in my memory.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

17/02/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

There’s no doubt about it: director Candice Edmunds has created something wonderful here. From the first moment, it’s clear we’re in for a spectacle, and the extended opening sequence is an absolute triumph. It’s 1940. A cosy, intimate family scene is devastated by a bomb. The walls come tumbling down, the parents disappear, and three children stand wide-eyed in the chaos of an air-raid. They’re hustled out of London and onto a train. Not a word is spoken. The storm clouds – held aloft on sticks – are two-dimensional cutouts; ditto the train. It’s cheeky and inventive, exactly the sort of unabashed theatricality I adore.

It’s a good job Edmunds is so skilled, because the story – based on the 1971 Disney movie and Mary Norton’s earlier novels – is horribly muddled, a hybrid of whimsy and threat that doesn’t quite work. It always was. Even as a child, I didn’t like Norton’s The Magic Bedknob or Bonfires and Broomsticks. They have neither the light-hearted charm of Mary Poppins nor the gravitas of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

The three orphaned children are Charlie (Conor O’Hara), Carrie (Izabella Bucknell) and Paul (Aidan Oti). They’re evacuated to the remote Dorset village of Pepperinge Eye, where they’re taken in by the mysterious Eglantine Price (Dianne Pilkington). At first mistrustful, their fears are soon assuaged, despite the fact that their newly appointed guardian is an apprentice witch. Because she’s not just any witch, but a witch with a mission: Miss Price is going to stop the Battle of Britain.

Sadly, the writing isn’t strong enough to carry off this coup de théâtre: lurching from a fanciful undersea dance to a terrifying armed encounter just feels odd and unsettling. The historical backdrop to the tale is largely accurate, and then – for no real reason – not. The ending is unnecessarily convoluted. And, The Beautiful Briny aside, the music isn’t the Sherman brothers’ best work either.

Nevertheless, this musical production is beautifully staged and performed – and, viewed as a collection of set pieces, it’s literally fantastic. Kudos to Jamie Harrison, the set and illusion designer: there are so many clever tricks here, and I can’t fathom out how all of them are done. Pilkington is well-cast in the main role, and Charles Brunton’s Emelius Brown exudes loveable ineptitude. Jacqui DuBois’ postmistress/museum curator Mrs Hobday is very funny too.

I love the ensemble work. The puppetry is delightful, and the choreography vibrant and enchanting.

This is a first-rate piece of theatre, too good for a second-rate tale.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Eric and Ern

15/11/21

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Picture this.

It’s sometime in the late 1960s and I’m a kid. (Yes, I actually was a kid, back in the day. I have a birth certificate to prove it.) I’m with my parents and my older sister, sitting in our modest house on an RAF base somewhere in the UK (probably Lincolnshire). We’re all gathered in front of a television set, housed in a walnut cabinet the size of East Anglia, with a screen that has the dimensions of a postage stamp. This is of course in the years BS (before streaming), so if there’s a show you want to see you have to be there, on the dot, otherwise the chance will be gone pretty much forever… or at least until somebody invents the concept of reruns. I’m a typical kid, already displaying symptoms of being an individual, and there aren’t many shows my parents like that I’m willing to watch. But there is one notable exception. Morecambe and Wise.

The decades move on, but still all four of us are happy to sit down together and watch these two northern comics whenever they have a new series or a Christmas special. What is it about them that’s so good? Nobody could accuse Eric Morecambe of having brilliant material – his stuff was kind of hack – but he was just a genuinely funny man, who, with a wiggle of his glasses and a sidelong glance, could humiliate the pompous, overbearing Ernie Wise, a man so convinced of his own talent that he was willing to employ major stars to appear in ‘the plays what he wrote.’

I never tired of the act and, like many, I was gutted when Eric Morecambe died, Ernie Wise retired and there would be no more nights worshipping at their shrine.

Eric and Ern is, I suppose, a tribute act but it seems somehow more than just that. While Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens look, move and sound like the real McCoys, there’s such warmth in this performance, such evident affection for the original duo, that it feels like stepping into a time machine and heading back to those long-mourned nights. The show is cleverly paced, composed of excerpts from classic sketches, each one just long enough to ensure it doesn’t outstay its welcome. There’s also a stooge in the form of vocalist Sinead Wall, who somehow succeeds in keeping a straight face through her lovely rendition of Send in the Clowns, while ‘Eric’ and ‘Ern’ cavort in costume just behind her.

Long cherished routines are observed: the paper bag trick (which I have been shamelessly unleashing on various young relatives over the years); the Austrian dance routine; the ‘two men in bed reading newspapers;’ even ‘Mr Memory,’ who knows everything about anything…. given enough prompts. From the opening scenes, I’m laughing helplessly, a condition I find myself in until the duo finally dance offstage, legs akimbo in time-honoured fashion.

This is a great big warm hug of a show. If you’re already fans of M & W, you’ll have a whale of a time. If they are new to you – I suppose such a thing is possible – why not go along and see what all the fuss was about?

Your time machine awaits!

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Grease

29/09/21

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

We’ve been denied the magic of theatre for far too long… so what’s the ideal production to get us back in our seats, clapping our hands and grinning behind our face masks? I put it to you that Grease is a pretty sound option. It has everything you need for a guaranteed good time – brash, funny and shot through with a heady mix of nostalgia. What’s not to like? And, what’s more, where most big musicals can offer you four or five great numbers, Grease is packed with wall-to-wall, solid gold, five-star bangers. A couple of chords into that memorable theme song and I’m already sold.

We all know the story of course. Prim, virginal Sandy Dumbrowski (Georgia Louise) arrives at Rydell High School having already spent a summer being romanced by handsome Danny Zucco (Dan Partridge) – but he finds it hard to be romantic in front of the other members of his gang, so a troubled courtship ensues. Those who only know the story from the movie version may be surprised to discover that this production, based on the original musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, is quite different from that familiar screenplay. This slick, adrenalin-fuelled adaptation gallops effortlessly from scene to scene and is at its finest in the ensemble dance numbers where Arlene Philips’s nifty choreography has the whole cast hoofing up a storm.

We also have Peter Andre in the dual role as disc jockey Vince Fontaine (cunningly housed in a circular booth at the top left of the stage) and as the Teen Angel, where he delivers a delightful version of Beauty School Dropout to Frenchy (Marianna Nedfitou). Andre might appear to be stunt casting, but he’s terrific in this production and a moment where he holds a top note for what seems an impossibly long time is proof that he possesses an accomplished singing voice – as does Georgia Louise who gives a super-powered rendition of Hopelessly Devoted to You.

There are also some memorable visual motifs. A scene where Danny and Sandy watch a drive in movie in glorious 3D is a particular delight.

If the first half is good, the second is even better – and the finale, where the cast lead us through a spirited singlalong of the best known songs has the entire audience up on its feet, clapping and stamping out the rhythms. I don’t mind admitted to being quite emotional at this point. I’ve missed live theatre so much and it’s just great to be back, relishing the shared experience. we’ve all been longing for.

So if you’re looking for a guaranteed good night out, Grease is the word!

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical

26/11/19

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Goodness, is it that time of year already? That time when entire families run frantically around the shops loading up on presents for the family? That time when baubles, tinsel and unecessary plastic objects appear in every window? Bah! You know, when I think about it, the Grinch and I have quite a bit in common.

However, one Christmas tradition well worth preserving is the annual family trip to the theatre and, this year, first off the starting block in Edinburgh is the Festival Theatre, with this lush and lively adaptation of the Dr Seuss classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Of course, the problem with Seuss is that his slim volumes are so deceptively simple, they manage to effortlessly pack each complex tale into just a few cartoons and some amusing verse. This can create problems for those seeking to adapt his work for the stage. In order to achieve the necessary running time, it can often feel like too much padding has been added to the mix. But tonight, this is not the case: a musical is clearly an ideal way to spin the format out without loads of repetition.

First off, there’s a short introduction from Gregor Fisher, who reads a few pages of the book to a bunch of youngsters recruited from the audience. It’s not a particularly auspicious start, because the children aren’t really given anything to do but sit there and listen. However, as soon as the music strikes up and the Whos dance onto the stage, it’s clear that we’re in for an exhilerating ride. The songs are charming, and the choreography a delight. The costumes are eye-popping and the set design (based on the good Dr’s distinctive illustrations) provides a riot of festive colours.

Then on comes Old Max (Steve Fortune), the Grinch’s faithful hound who tells us the story of when he was Young Max (Matt Terry) and how, one fateful night, he was enlisted to aid the Grinch (Edward Baker-Duly) is his devious plan to kidnap Christmas and leave the Whos of Whoville bereft of Christmas cheer. Suess’s central message about the perils of consumerism is properly conveyed, together with the conclusion that Christmas should be (and can be) something much deeper than a mere trip to the shops. Whenever there’s a danger of it all becoming a little too sentimental, the script manages to pull things back to the right side of the line.

Baker-Duly gives us a splendid Grinch, slyly snarky and deliciously devious, thrilling the youngest members of the audience, while sneakily throwing in jokes for their parents. Special mention should be made of Isla Gie, playing Cindy Lou Who on the night we attend. The Grinch in me hates to use the word ‘adorable,’ but after some consideration, I really can’t think of a more apropriate one, and Gie comes dangerously close to walking off with the entire show.

As you’d expect from any Christmas production, TGWSC has all the pyrotechnics you could reasonably ask for, including a pretty convincing snowfall (I’d hate to be handed the task of cleaning it up afterwards).

Those looking for an enchanting festive night out for all the family will surely find what they want right here.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

On Your Feet

 

07/10/19

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

On Your Feet is the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, following the well-trodden path of using bands’ back catalogues to create a musical. Unlike its precedessors however, Miami Sound Machine’s greatest hits are not playfully shoe-horned into a corny piece of fiction; instead they’re used to illustrate the band’s history.

It’s partially successful. There’s no denying the rousing nature of the music: the feel-good, toe-tapping, hip-swinging joy of it. This is an extravaganza of a show, with dazzling costumes (by Emilio Sosa), fizzing dance routines and a sense of well-earned pride in what the Estefans achieved. There’s a buzz in the auditorium; people are excited to be here, enjoying themselves.

Their history is interesting: as Cuban immigrants living in Miami, Gloria and Emilio struggled to break into the American music scene, despite their huge success in South America. But their fusion-tunes made a lot of sense, reflecting both their heritage and their assimilation. Their dedication to proving there was an appetite for ‘cross-over’ music is heartening to see realised.

The storytelling is somewhat artless though – surprisingly so from Alexander Dinelaris, the writer of Birdman – a chocolate-box depiction of the band’s rise to fame. The dialogue is clunkily expository in places, and perhaps there’s not quite enough plot. Gloria’s near-fatal traffic accident in the second act is supposed to provide the jeopardy, I suppose, but – as told here – it doesn’t have enough dramatic resonance, and the self-congratulatory tone of her recovery is truly cringe-inducing. Do we really need to have sycophantic fan letters read (and sung) aloud to us?

Still, there are some gutsy performances here tonight, not least from Philippa Stefani as Gloria. The ensemble work is beautifully choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, and the on-stage musicians are  seriously good.

We head out into the night singing and smiling – and that really can’t be bad. In the end the rhythm gets us.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield