Harvey Weinstein

Legally Blonde: The Musical

27/11/17

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Legally Blonde began life as a movie in 2001, based on a semi-autobiographical (unpublished) manuscript by Amanda Brown. It became the subject of a Hollywood bidding war, made a star of Reese Witherspoon and went on to earn over one-hundred-and-forty million dollars at the box office (and this at a time when one-hundred-and-forty million dollars was considered a lot of money!). Perhaps it was inevitable that it would be turned into a musical but what few people could have anticipated was the fact that the resulting show would actually improve upon the film.

From the opening chords of the first song, this version – slickly directed and choreographed by Anthony Williams – is a bright, shiny bauble that virtually dares you not to enjoy its outrageous antics. Okay, so it’s double fluff with a side order of fluff but, my word, what brilliantly acted, superbly choreographed fluff it is!

Elle (Lucie Jones) is a style icon, the one that her friends seek out whenever they need tips about what clothes to wear and which make-up to team it with. When her long-term boyfriend, Warner (Liam Doyle), invites her out for a special meal, she confidently expects him to ask for her hand in marriage – so she’s absolutely devastated when he announces that he actually wants to dump her so he can devote more time to his studies at Harvard Law School. Desperate to win him back, Elle embarks on a daring mission. She will enrol at Harvard too and prove to him that she’s more than just a ditzy blonde…

Once there, she meets up with shy-but-caring fellow student, Emmett (David Barrett), the mendacious and influential Professor Callahan, (Bill Ward), and her rival for Warner’s affections, Vivienne (Laura Harrison). She also enlists a secret weapon: the much put-upon hairdresser and occasional muse, Paulette (Rita Simons), who helps Elle to achieve everything she wants and more.

At a time when the subject of women’s rights is receiving more attention than ever before, it seems particularly appropriate that this story is all about a woman triumphing over adversity and over men’s preconceptions about who she is and what she is capable of. The ‘Harvey Weinstein’ moment at the start of the second act is genuinely hard-hitting, prompting a moment of uncomfortable silence in amongst the candyfloss. It’s surprisingly effective. If I’m making it sound a bit po-faced, please don’t be fooled. The messages are all served up with huge dollops of fun. The script is often laugh-out-loud funny and there’re some eye-popping dance sequences (the one where a large group of dancers indulge in synchronised skipping is a particular stand-out). I also love the fact that, even with a cast of over twenty actors, everybody has their moment to shine.

If you’re in the mood for an enjoyable night at the theatre, you really won’t do much better than this. Only the stoniest-faced curmudgeons will be able to resist its charms. I used to think of myself as one of these… but there I was, clapping gleefully along with the rest of the audience.

Note to self: I really must try harder.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Advertisements

Paddington 2

10/11/17

Paddington is a tough act to follow. That first film got everything right – a family entertainment that really did have something for everyone. It was also highly successful, so of course there was always going to be a sequel. The modestly titled Paddington 2 says it all. Not Paddington Episode Two, or Paddington Rides Again. No, this does exactly what it says on the tin –  a second adventure featuring Michael Bond’s celebrated ursine hero.

But, can it hope to be as good as its progenitor? The fact that the film’s release has been delayed for a month while the production company scrambles to disassociate itself from a certain Harvey Weinstein doesn’t augur well but, against all the odds, this second installment of the franchise manages to unfold its delightfully silly story without putting a single paw wrong.

The film opens with a flashback to darkest Peru, where Uncle Pastuzu (Michael Gambon) and Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) first encounter the orphaned bear cub who will become Paddington – and we discover that Aunt Lucy has a longheld ambition to visit the city of London. After the credits we nip smartly back to the present day, where Paddington is now a valued member of the Brown family, helping Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Judy (Madeleine Harris). He’s also fitting in nicely with the community of the street on which he lives – cue plenty of cameos from what seems like scores of celebrated comic actors.

But with Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday approaching, Paddington is looking for a suitable present for his beloved aunt so, when his friend, Mr Gruber, (Jim Broadbent) who runs the local antique shop, shows him a charming (and rather expensive) pop-up book of the city, Paddington resolves to earn enough money to buy it for her. To this end, he tries his hand at window cleaning and barbering, both with suitably hilarious results. Then, by chance, his path crosses with that of has-been actor, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who, it transpires, wants the pop-up book for his own nefarious purposes…

Once again, the screenwriters have managed to capture the spirit of Michael Bond’s evergreen tales, presenting us with a storyline that will have people of all ages laughing uproariously – when they’re not clutching for their handkerchieves. Yes, this is undoubtedly manipulative stuff, but it’s done with such style and such sure-footedness, that you cannot help but be swept along. Scenes where the unthinkable happens and Paddington is actually sentenced to a spell in jail will have the hardest heart breaking into tiny pieces – and the little bear’s developing friendship with prison chef Knuckles McGinty (the ever dependable Brendan Gleeson) is a brilliant conceit which occasionally yields comedy gold.

It doesn’t end there. Paddington 2 is endlessly inventive (scenes where the little bear and his aunt cavort amidst a pop-up recreation of the city of London are a particular highlight). Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Hugh Grant (who, weirdly, we think we spotted walking a tiny dog near Rosslyn Chapel a couple of weeks ago). His turn as the self-obsessed Phoenix Buchanan is one of his best performances ever and he very nearly steals the show from the titular bear – still endearingly voiced by Ben Whishaw.

When you witness some of the absolute dross that passes for ‘family entertainment’ these days, it’s reassuring to see something as lovingly crafted as this. The next question? Can they do it a third time? Well, that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, this will do very nicely indeed.

5 stars

Philip Caveney