Music: Noel Gay
Book: Abi Grant
Script Revised: Alex Armitage
Director: Caroline Leslie
Reviewer: Jim Nicholson
The show was first performed in 1991 at the Queens Theatre Shaftsbury Avenue with Tony Slattery in the lead. The Abi Grant written book, using the words and music of Gay, has not had very much exposure since, but with a revised script by Alex Armitage it is now a real ‘blitz’.
Back in 91 Armitage was responsible for the original concept and now the tweaking of the script really does appear to have given the piece a new lease of life. If you recognise the name Armitage it may well be because he is the grandson of the great Reginald Moxon Armitage (aka Noel Gay).
Set in the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus during the Spring of 1942 we have a BBC show, ‘Variety Bandwagon’, being transmitted live to America for the first time. It is a broadcast made all the more difficult by the trials and tribulations of a new “rule book thumping” producer, a love triangle between the stars of the show and this weeks special guest, the need for pre-transmission security clearance of all material and the overhead attentions of the German Luftwaffe.
Grant has not simply pulled together all Gay’s best known songs but has instead used the catalogue to enhance a decent story that becomes almost side splitting at times. In actual fact the only two really well know numbers are ‘Run Rabbit Run’ and ‘There’s Something About a Soldier’, but each and every ‘unknown’ number starts with a question mark in your head about quality and by the end has you tapping your toes, singing along and yearning for it to last longer.
Tom Rogers has come up with a simple set that works wonderfully well in taking you from backstage to dressing room to live performance with the dropping of a curtain or the turning of a desk. All the time you feel very much that you are sat in the audience of a live broadcast. The overhead rumblings and all around bombing makes you also realise why people of that generation became so very special.
Caroline Leslie has given us a ‘no time to take your eyes off the stage’ evening fully utilising the fine ‘actor/musician’ cast and allowing Alistair David full use of a very small performance space. He provides some of the best and most entertaining choreography seen at this theatre, and that is saying something when you think of just how good Craig Revel Horwood works have been in the past few years.
The cast all deserve a mention with Gary Wilmot having the audience in the palm of his hand as the lovable rogue Sammy Shaw. His comic timing is great and he goes further to share many of the jokes with the onlookers as if they were his best friends.
Anna-Jane Casey never gives a poor performance and, as Olive James, this is no exception. She sings beautifully, dances with real aplomb and makes you resalise that she really is one of the UK’s leading female musical stars.
Andrew C Wadsworth as ‘straight laced’ producer, turned last minute life saving comic star of the show, Heathcliffe Bultitude is simply brill. You hear him deliver funny line after funny line on the radio whilst still exuding the ‘prim and proper’ demeanor to all actually near him.
Julian Littman is the lovable song and dance funny man, Wilfred Davies, who sets a record as the only Londoner to spell it with a ‘U’, whilst Vivien Carter, as Amy, smolders, seduces, sings, dances, plays and ends up with real heart.
The ever smooth Darren Bennett uses his ‘velvet like’ vocals to give real belief to, Gary Strong, the Brit who has become a US movie idol.
Yet in amongst all this fantastic talent the star turn is the sound man, Jeeps, who, with only farm noises at hand has a clumsiness that ensures every transmission is close to disaster. Christian Edwards take a bow.
Put this to the top of your list of shows to see this Summer. You will go home mesmerised by the near perfect, but oh so different, version of ‘Run Rabbit Run’ and amongst the many highlights you will also find out that you have a new favourite song of all time in ‘Who’s Been Polishing the Sun’.
As I said at the start ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and certainly no reason at all to ‘Run, Run, Run’ unless it is to the box office to get your ticket.
Photo: Robert Day – Runs until 24th September