Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 11th February, 2015
Set in the common room of a retirement home, this musical comedy adapted from the German original, has a cast of elderly characters, portrayed by much younger actors – a good thing: they move and act like old people but their singing voices retain the power of their comparative youth.
There is next to nothing in the way of plot and character development, and very little dialogue, come to think of it. Instead we spend a couple of hours in their company. There are periods of quiet, comic action and there are songs and plenty of them. In an eclectic song list that ranges from Joan Jett to Joan Baez, some lyrics take on additional significance. “The time to hesitate is through,” they sing during The Doors’ Light My Fire. Indeed.
The residents are patronised and coerced by Sister George (Georgina White) and here lies most of the show’s inherent conflict. On the whole though, they seem to rub along quite nicely – at one point a slow-moving (not slow-motion) slapstick spat breaks out, providing some measured, perhaps a little too slow, clowning.
Dale Superville is in fine fettle, with some physical shtick and a strong singing voice. His falsetto version of R E S P E C T goes down well, but his sweet duet of I Got You Babe with his sweetheart (Clara Darcy) is a highlight. Darcy goes on to give a plaintive rendition of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit which becomes embittered and stirring when the others join in. In fact, the ensemble singing is delightful, harmonised to perfection. Stefan Bednarczyk (who co-adapted the piece with director Giles Croft) proves himself a versatile pianist, covering a vast range of musical styles. The excellent Rebecca Little hurls invective to comic effect and, when her prosthetic leg comes off, launches into a wistful Barbie Girl. The nostalgia factor is strong in this one. When the elderly are asked to sing songs of the old days, and they come out with 90s pop hits, you know you’re getting on.
It’s quite bonkers when you think about it but the spectre of mortality is waiting in the wings. Live life, the oldies urge us, and don’t let the bastards grind you down. This gets a cheer from the audience, comprised mainly of white-haired people (refreshing to be among the youngest present!), but for all its feel-good fun, it’s not as funny as it thinks it is. Perhaps something was lost in translation and the European humour doesn’t travel. The first half is too long and some business is drawn out too far. We don’t get to hear John Elkington’s Imagine after three or four false starts – a pity; he is in great voice (when he’s not falling off the stage or breaking wind).
It’s a pleasant couple of hours but it’s a packet of biscuits rather than a meal.