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Soho Cinders – Soho Theatre, London

Writer: Anthony Drewe and Elliot Davis

Music: George Stiles

Lyrics: Anthony Drewe

Choreographer: Drew McOnie

Director: Jonathan Butterell

Reviewer: Paul Thurtle

[rating:5]

 

With a panto-style title like ‘Soho Cinders’ you could be forgiven for thinking that Stiles &Drewe’s new musical is a ‘It’s behind you’ camp, men in drag romp. Actually it is a very moving story told by a super cast, with beautiful music and sharp directing from Jonathan Butterell.

Six songs from ‘Soho Cinders’ first appeared on the 2008 CD ‘A Spoonful of Stiles &Drewe’. Next a Sunday night concert performance at the Queen’s Theatre in October 2011. Finally the show received its world premiere at Soho Theatre.

The Action is set in Old Crompton Street where ‘It’s hard to tell the gay guys from the straight’. Robbie, a hard up student, becomes romantically involved with a London Mayoral candidate James Prince. Robbie gets to the ball on a Boris Bike rather than a carriage and ‘Buttons’ has been replaced by ‘Velcro’ – even so the story still has that ‘Cinderella’ charm. There is no love lost between Robbie and his mean step-sisters who are all set to make him homeless after inheriting their step-mother’s flat and laundrette. Will everything be resolved before the last stroke of midnight?

The dramatic set design by Morgan Large hits you as soon as you enter the theatre. Based on a massive street sign it is both clever and effective. The lighting design by Hugh Vanstone is particularly effective especially in the rippling waters of Trafalgar Square.

Some people said that ‘the book needs more work’ after seeing the concert performance. Not everyone thought that was the case. The tweaks that Elliot Davis has made to the story simply serve to make the show even better.

This show is packed full of wonderful melodies written by George Stiles. Just add Anthony Drewe’s clever, funny and poignant lyrics and you have a cracker of a show.

There was a real buzz in the opening number and Sidesaddle’s (Amanda Posener) riffs are thrilling to listen to in this song and throughout the other numbers. From start to finish the ensemble work hard not only by effortlessly looking good, dancing and singing but also by moving the props so efficiently. They shine in a number of set pieces choreographed by Drew McOnie and especially in the dance sequences during It’s Hard To Tell and Who’s That Boy. They also deliver some excellent one liners.

For those who saw the concert version of this show or who have the CD recording they will know just how good Jos Slovick was as Robbie. Tom Milner had some big boots (or glass slippers) to fill in this production; but fill them he did. His crowning glory was his fantastic rendering of the torch song Glass Slippers. It was superb that he sang it with an English accent (no American pronunciations for ‘glass’).

Robbie’s friend Velcro (Amy Lennox) is an instantly likeable character: She is the salt of the earth and completely believable. Her duet with Robbie, Wishing For The Normal is funny and thought provoking. Emotions run high by the time she sings Let Him Go with Marilyn.

A beautiful new song (Remember Us) has been written for this production in a duet by Marilyn Platt (Jenna Russell) and James Prince (Michael Xavier). These two giants of musical theatre both give powerful and moving performances throughout the show. James and Robbie’s duet Gypsies Of The Ether is another beautiful and touching song.

The long suffering Sasha (Raj Ghatak) passively takes all the racial abuse hurled at him and his subservient character has some funny lines.

Lord Bellingham (Neil McCaul) and William George (Gerard Carey) are equally unpleasant characters but are played with some depth which makes them more than pantomime villains.

Like ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ there is a narrator. A good narrator interacts with the cast and audience thus making no two shows the same. Using pre-recorded narration means that interaction and spontaneity cannot happen. Owners of the CD will know how good Sandy Toksvig was at responding to the audience laughs. Here the narrator is a recorded Stephen Fry and while this loses the spontaneity it allows the ugly sisters to make references to a posh voice which raised a laugh.

In fact the show is stolen by the ugly sisters Clodagh (Suzie Chard) and Dana (Beverly Rudd). There is a wonderful chemistry between these actors and it spills out (literally) into their performances. Their show stopping songs I’m So Over Men and 15 Minutes are over too quickly and leave you wanting more. The addition of the operatic finale to I’m So Over Men shows off the vocal skills of these two extremely talented ladies.

This slick production, funny (and totally up to the minute) script and super songs means there is no sensation of the passing of time and all too soon it is over. A great show; well worth seeing more than once.

Runs until Sunday 9th September 2012

 

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3 comments

  1. Stephen Diviani

    I totally enjoyed the show and thought the cast were fantastic. And, like a Panto, it’s probably best not to ask too many questions but I did have a problem with Robbie being a rent boy/’escort’. Why? It’s telling, Paul, that in your review you don’t mention it, describing him as a ‘student’. Isn’t he doing his ‘A’ levels? So is he at Sixth Form College? He has his own flat,is likeable, attractive, intelligent, grounded and doesn’t have/never has had drug/alcohol/mental health problems. So why is he a rent boy? He could easily get bar/restaurant work. Apparently his ‘textbooks’ are expensive. So he becomes a prostitute?! There is, without meaning to be heavy duty about it, something dubious about making prostitution seem an okay career option for young people.

  2. In the show Robbie says that he prefers to call himself ‘an escort’ as what he choses to do to earn money and that it is ‘not always about sex’.
    He is retaking his ‘A’-levels so I would assume he is 18 or 19. If an 18 year old man wishes to earn money in the way he does (and he is clearly over the age of consent) then that’s his choice.
    Perhaps the issue is the way we perceve the people who work in the sex industry? Cinderella was meant to stay at home and clean the house because of her station in life. Is Robbie meant to stay at home too as he is “just a rent boy?” I’m guessing being an escort is a means to an end for Robbie rather that a career choice.
    There’s no denying that the incidence of mental health issues among longer term career escorts is higher than usual but I am not sure that escorting is the cause or the effect of that.

  3. Stephen Diviani

    All of which is fine, Paul, but just don’t glamourize teenage prostitution as being no different from temp office/retail work or bar/restaurant work – it’s rather insulting to the the latter. Maybe the problem in narrative terms is the issue of ‘choice’ – I just don’t believe that morally principled Robbie would ‘choose’ to be a prostitute: I suspect it was chosen for him him by the plot.

    I will now shut up because it’s a great show and I hope it’s a success.