Tag Archives: Birmingham

Bleak House

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY

Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 7thFebruary 2023

Imagine Bob Dylan wrote Les Misérables but set it in 1930s dustbowl America à la Steinbeck.  If you can do that, you’re some way to understanding what this show is like.  Technically, a jukebox musical, raiding Dylan’s back catalogue and stringing songs together to tell a story, except it’s not, not really.  The story, with script by the excellent Conor McPherson (of The Weir fame) could work as a straight  play (Well, I’ll come to that later).  The songs could stand alone without the story.  And so instead of a conventional piece of musical theatre where the songs reveal character or develop the plot, what we have here is a straight play interrupted by concert-like performances of the musical numbers.

The setting is a guesthouse under threat of foreclosure by the bank.  The proprietor Nick (Colin Connor) struggles with his estranged wife, Elizabeth, who has developed some kind of dementia, while cajoling his wannabe-writer and alcoholic son to get a job.  Nick is waiting for his mistress’s ship to come in; she’s a widow waiting for probate and they have plans to set up a new guesthouse elsewhere… That American dream, you see.  Meanwhile, Nick’s adopted black daughter is mysteriously pregnant, so he’s trying to marry her off to an elderly shoe repairer, for her own good.  To top it off, there’s a storm brewing and two strangers arrive in the middle of the night, a former boxer and a bible salesman…

There’s more humour than you might expect in this tale of economic hardship, unemployment,  racial prejudice, alcoholism, failed marriage, senility, learning difficulties, and just about every other miserable thing you can think of.  In the first half, at least.  But there are so many characters, there’s not really enough time for things to develop.  It takes a narrator, Dr Walker (Chris McHallem) to provide exposition and to wrap things up at the end.  There are some fine dramatic moments, well played, but apart from the general misery of it all, I’m not particularly moved.  McPherson writes great scenes but, judging by this show, is not so hot when it comes to dramatic structure beyond these vignettes of misery.

And then there are the songs.  Not Dylan’s greatest hits shoehorned in, but a careful curation of some of the more obscure tracks, rearranged to fit the period.  The actors play instruments to augment the onstage band creating a rich sound, but it’s the singing that stands out.  For example, songs like ‘Has Anyone Seen My Love?’, ‘Slow Train’ (wonderfully sung by Joshua C Jackson) and ‘I Want You’ (Gregor Milne) all knock your socks off.  But it’s the ladies who really deliver the goods.  Maria Omakinwa as the elegant widow Mrs Neilson is just about perfect, and so is Justina Kehinde’s pregnant Marianne.  Surprisingly, perhaps, demented Elizabeth (Frances McNamee) almost steals the show with her vigorous dancing and superb vocals. I invariably prefer Dylan’s songs when performed by anyone other than the songwriter, so this score serves to remind me of Old Bob’s songsmithery.

It’s a show of two halves, then, beautifully presented, albeit on a dingy stage, and while I enjoy the drama and love the songs, the two halves don’t quite fit together.  An excellent production, to be sure, but it’s a bit of a downer.  You won’t be dancing in the aisles, but you might be uplifted a little by the gospel-style finale before the crushing bleakness of existence closes in.

Oh well.  I’m off to write a show about the Cod War, using the music of The Smiths.  Why not?

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Marianne (Justina Kehinde) – Photo: Johan Persson


Radio Ga Gatsby

THE GREAT GATSBY

Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 22nd January, 2023

Joe Landry’s adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic novel takes place in a New York radio theatre in the 1920s.  We meet a troupe of half a dozen actors who will perform the play, taking on all the roles and the sound effects between them.  This kind of setting allows the staging of material that would otherwise be too expensive, relying on the audience’s imagination to picture Gatsby’s vast mansion, for example.  It also makes the staging of action scenes (the car accident) within reach.

Our host is Freddie Filmore, played by Louis McCoy who, as well as taking on the roles of Gatsby and Wilson is an excellent pianist; Jake Laurents (Thom Stafford, no relation) plays the story’s narrator Nick; Jason Adam brings humour to the role of Tony Hunter, the kind of actor who reads the stage directions as well as the dialogue, playing Tom Buchanan.  Gatsby’s love interest is portrayed by Jessica Melia as Sally Applewhite; Terri-Leigh Nevin’s Lana Sherwood gives us an excellent Myrtle Wilson, complete with squeaky Noo Yoik accent; and Charlotte East’s Nellie North adds a touch of class as Jordan Baker.  (I hope I’ve got everyone’s names right!)

All six prove their versatility in characterisation and demonstrate exceptional vocal skills.  Director Alexandra Whiteley gives us plenty of visuals too in what was in danger of being a rather static affair.  To see the cast create highly effective sound effects is a marvel to behold, especially the horse noises of Jessica Melia and the car noises of Charlotte East and Jason Adam.

There is some comedy with Jason Adam’s Tony getting things wrong, and I would have liked more of this tension, the pressure to get things right and not to miss cues.  The action is interrupted for commercial breaks, where the cast sing the jingles.  Illuminated signs encourage us to applaud when appropriate – not that I need much encouragement.

The second half allows the Fitzgerald to come to the fore for the dramatic and tragic denouement, using the techniques the cast have demonstrated so amusingly in the first, but the whole thing ends on a cheerful note with a joyful Charleston to see us off.

Great!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Raining Supremes

DREAMGIRLS

Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 7th December, 2022

There are many shows that chart the highs and lows of the business we call show, detailing the rise and fall of musical artistes, often involving real-life dead singers.  This one focusses on a fictional Motown-style girl group and adheres pretty much to the same storytelling formula, touching upon white exploitation of black music, and male exploitation of female performers.

Three young women meet a manager/con artist who gets them a gig as backing singers to an established star.  Eventually, the group get to headline their own shows, make records, appear on television.  Conflict arises when the manager changes the line-up so the ‘best-looking’ girl gets to front the group, while the one with the strongest voice is relegated to backing vocals.  These machinations culminate in a blistering Act One closing number, delivered by Nicole Raquel Dennis as the side-lined Effie, whose rendition of And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going brings the house to its feet and is quite possibly the most impassioned performance you could ever hope to hear.

Dennis is a powerful presence throughout, exhibiting Effie’s diva behaviour and that searing, soaring voice.  Playing the other two girls are Natalie Kassanga as Deena (the pretty one) and Paige Peddie as Lorrell (the funny one).  They each get their moments to shine both musically and dramatically.

As the manipulative manager Curtis Taylor Jr, Matt Mills embodies the male attitudes of the time: the women are merely a product for him to package and sell.  With his rich singing voice, he is a pleasure to hate.  Brandon Lee Sears is a pleasure to like as womanising soul singer Jimmy Early; with all the moves and the vocal dynamics, Sears delivers a star turn.

Tim Hatley’s set evokes nightclubs, TV studios, Las Vegas, all through geometric patterns, while his costumes are glitzy and glamorous – especially the gowns worn by the girls.

The songs are credible pastiches, played live by a fantastic band under the baton of Simona Budd, but of course it’s the singers who command our attention.  You can’t fault the production values or the performances, but for me the material is a little too formulaic, containing no surprises to lift it beyond the run-of-the-mill showbiz story.

All in all though, it’s a hugely impressive, entertaining evening in the company of Supremely talented performers who work hard to deserve their ovations.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Diverting divas: Paige Peddie, Natalie Kassanga, and Nicole Raquel Dennis


Vloggy Horror Show

THE ORPHANAGE

Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 17th November, 2022

Young couple Liz and JP are engaged to be married.  To raise funds for their nuptials, they decide to create something exciting for their YouTube channel, something that will go viral and bring in the big bucks.  Unlike most ‘influencers’ I’ve come across, this pair are an appealing couple of characters and we’re happy to go along with them when they opt for spending the night at an abandoned children’s home…

So begins a superb night of theatre, with the intimate black-box space of the Blue Orange pulling out all the stops to generate suspense and tension, using practical effects to shock and surprise and to get us jumping out of our seats.  The action is enhanced by video footage, for scenic reasons and to develop the plot, as JP stumbles across VT of a creepy doctor conducting interviews with his juvenile charges. Alex Johnson’s set grounds us in reality, while his lighting design highlights the weird happenings. Dan Clarkson’s sound design punches up the scarier moments. Sights and sounds come at us from all quarters, keeping us on edge throughout.

Saul Bache makes JP an amiable extrovert, providing a rich vein of humour between the scares.  Stephanie Simpson’s Liv is more level-headed (until things start to unravel, that is!) and the two spark off each other nicely.  Thom Stafford (no relation) is wonderfully menacing as twisted Doctor Harding, whether he’s on screen or making a more personal appearance.

The script by James Williams and Alexandra Whiteley (who both also direct) is bang up-to-date, proving that ghost stories don’t have to be Victorian, using present-day vernacular and technology to create a thrill-ride of a play that puts the audience in the thick of the action.  Ashley Walsh’s original compositions add to the horror movie atmosphere, and there’s a haunting version of You Are My Sunshine in a minor key that is wonderfully unsettling.  Horror fans will recognise tropes from cinema, but they’re just as (if not more) effective done live before our very eyes.

The story covers a lot of ground: mystery, supernatural occurrences, psychological terror, buried memories coming to the surface… and does so effectively in a comparatively short running time.  It’s an antidote to all the premature Christmas cheer out there, a perfect chiller for a wintry evening.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


What’s it all about, Malfi?

THE DUCHESS OF MALFI

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 12th November, 2022

John Webster’s revenge tragedy, first produced in 1614, comes to the Ron Barber studio in this elegant, abbreviated version, directed by Andrew Cowie.  A cast of nine hurtle through the action and, for the most part, handle the text well – especially when the characters are being angry or insane or both.

In the title role, Grace Cheatle is an appealing duchess, marrying her alluring femininity with a kind of playful innocence.  She also marries her steward, in secret and against the wishes of her control freak brothers, Duke Ferdinand (Andrew Elkington) and the Cardinal (Tom Lowde).  These are the villains of the piece but their dirty work is carried out by the formidable Robert Laird as ex-con and henchman for hire, Daniel de Bosola, who spies on the duchess and gets most of Webster’s best lines.  “We are merely the star’s tennis balls, struck and banded Which way please them.”– A nice philosophy but it’s the duchess’s brothers who strike and band him around!

Elkington and Lowde each shine, especially in scenes of distress, and yet again the costume team at the Crescent come up trumps, realising the designs of Stewart and Rose Snape.  Duke Ferdinand’s madness is more alarming than anything feigned by Hamlet.

Jason Adam makes an impression as Antonio the steward, and there is superb support from Fi Cotton as the loyal waiting woman, Cariola – grieving and getting strangled in heart-wrenching moments.  Charlotte Thompson is assured and somewhat coquettish as the Cardinal’s fiery mistress, while Jess Shannon works wonders with the non-descript ‘nice’ role of Delia, Antonio’s friend – and survivor of the climactic massacre.

Andrew Cowie’s direction keeps the action moving at quite a lick and there are some splendid scenes in lantern light. The scene where the duchess is visited by a group of lunatics seems underdone, though.  As the action reaches its denouement, he brings out the dark humour of the piece but, curiously, for a revenge tragedy, the stage is surprisingly blood free.  Apart from a nosebleed on a handkerchief and a wax dummy painted with it, this is a remarkably sterile bloodbath.  One of the delights of revenge tragedy is the copious bloodletting at the end.  We have enjoyed seeing the mighty and powerful behaving extremely badly; similarly, their comeuppance must be extreme, washing their sins away with their own blood.

As ever, production values are high – but perhaps the budget doesn’t run to the laundry bill or contain enough for buckets of stage blood to be added to the props list!  The chequerboard floor of Keith Harris and Michael Barry’s set suggests chess, symbolising the plots and stratagems of just about all the characters, the black and white squares the evil or good of their natures.

Stylish, elegant and gripping if a bit anaemic.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Fi Cotton and Grace Cheatle (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)


Dark Clouds on the Horizon

FALSE ACCOUNTS

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Wednesday 19th October, 2022

You may be aware (you should be!) that since the turn of the century, hundreds of sub-postmasters up and down the country have been wrongly convicted of theft or false accounting by the Post Office.  Many have lost their livelihoods, some were imprisoned.  Some committed suicide.  The root cause was Horizon, the computer system imposed on all branches, a system that was acclaimed as ‘infallible’.  Just like the Titanic was unsinkable, it turns out.

This drama-documentary by The Outcasts Creative is dedicated to all those impacted by those real-life events. Characters of the sub-postmasters are condensed into five individuals, representing the range of experience suffered by the many. Events are linked by narration, and there are scenes that are more like sketches. Pigs’ noses and devil horns give the show an agit-prop feel, and there are some great ideas: Paula Vennells’s Darth Vader vibe, with the sub-postmasters as hooded rebels against her evil empire. There are moments when the satire is sharp, but these never undermine the emotional testimony of the monologues.

Some standouts for me include Graham MacDonnell as a jaded IT worker and later as a game-show host, and Cathy Odusanya, whose emotive account is heartbreakingly real. There is some wonderfully atmospheric music underscoring the action, courtesy of composer Ice Dob.

The cast of 13 are always on the move so its difficult to attribute roles to the correct performer on the cast list, but they make a vibrant ensemble.

Tonally, it’s patchy.  The nature of the beast, I suppose, but directors Lance S A Nielsen (who also wrote it) and Dickon Tolson need to ensure energy levels are consistent across the board to keep us hooked.  Also, it runs a bit long and could do with some judicious trimming: the future-in-Heaven scene is not funny enough to warrant keeping in its present form – members of the audience were ducking out, fearful of missing trains and buses.  When it’s working as it should, the show contains some extremely powerful moments, amplified by the intimacy of the Old Joint Stock stage.

The story continues in the real world, as the fight for compensation goes on.  It’s a story that needs to be told.  People need to stop putting faith in the wrong sorts to run powerful institutions – and ought such institutions have such power without being brought to account?

Thought-provoking and moving, the show just needs a little tightening to get the bugs out.

☆ ☆ ☆ and a half!


Ocean of Emotion

SOUTH PACIFIC

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 28th August, 2022

The Chichester Festival Theatre production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic comes to town and it’s an absolute must-see.  The score reads like a Greatest Hits playlist.  So many great numbers, many of which have become standards.  Hearing them within the context of the drama renews their impact.

Set in World War II on an island outpost where the US Navy is itching for conflict with the Japanese, this is at heart a double love story, where both relationships are blighted by ingrained prejudice.  We have firecracker hick Nellie Forbush falling for the urbane and educated plantation owner Emile de Becque, and handsome young lieutenant Joe Cable having his head turned by Liat, the beautiful daughter of camp follower Bloody Mary.  Joe feels unable to marry the girl because of the way things are ‘back home’; Nellie is horrified to discover the late mother of Emile’s kids was, gulp, coloured.  The revelation of Nellie’s racism comes as a real kicker at the end of Act One.  This lively, perky girl, the life and soul of any gathering, who has entertained us and earned our affection is tainted by one of the most stupid attitudes going.  It’s a real blow, like finding out someone you otherwise admire votes Tory.

Sad to say, the show’s message is just as relevant today.  Cable’s song, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught gets to the root of a problem that still plagues society today.

As the suave Emile, Julian Ovenden oozes romance.  Some Enchanted Evening has never sounded lovelier or more seductive.  Gina Beck’s Nellie is irresistible, funny and perky, with her heart on her sleeve, her vocals both belting and nuanced.  Rob Houchen’s Cable is spot on: the handsome young officer, dutiful and yet in love.  Houchen’s voice is surely the finest working in musical theatre today.  Sublime.

Joanna Ampil’s Bloody Mary brings plenty of comic relief, as does Douggie McMeekin’s Luther Billis.  Ampil’s impassioned pleas to Cable to give her daughter a better life are heart-breaking, and her rendition of Bali Ha’i is bewitching.

The big chorus numbers are stirring: There is Nothing Like a Dame, by the men, and I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, by the women.  This production goes all out to deliver the goods.  Ann Yee’s choreography, especially for the marines, is energetic, hoe-down like without being camp, and there are plenty of exotic touches to evoke the island setting.

Romantic, thrilling and humorous, with a strong social comment, South Pacific reasserts itself as a pinnacle of musical theatre in this magnificent production that hits all the right notes, musically and emotionally.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Cable guy Rob Houchen and hair-washer Gina Beck (Photo: Johan Persson)


Caught in a Bard Romance

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 24th August, 2022

Famously, little is known of Shakespeare the man, although we actually know more about him than other playwrights of the time.  The gaps in our knowledge are taken as an open invitation to screenwriters, novelists, and everyone else to invent whatever they like to make their own version of him.  Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman chose to straightwash the bard in their screenplay for the Oscar-winning 1998 film – Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day is widely recognised as having been written for a man.  The screenplay takes plot points from Romeo & Juliet and Twelfth Night, with the idea that these life events inspired the plays, when in truth Shakespeare’s plays were adaptations of pre-existing stories.   Not that this matters if we take this version at face value.  Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of the screenplay holds true to the spirit of the film, and there’s a lot of fun to be had recognising versions of famous quotes.  Even if you’re not well-versed (ha) in the Works, there is much to enjoy in this historical rom-com.

What strikes you first off in this sumptuous production is the set, which evokes the Globe Theatre and serves well for other locations.  Milling around pre-show the cast give us previews of their costumes.  As ever the costume department at the Crescent goes all out.  This is a fabulous-looking show; Rosemary Snape and her team should be commended.

Oliver Jones is a handsome and endearing Will Shakespeare, managing to be both cerebral and bumbling.  Alisdair Hunt makes an impression as his rival-mentor-friend Kit Marlowe.  The notion that Marlowe fed Will some of his best lines under a balcony is more akin to Cyrano de Bergerac!

Bethany Gilbert absolutely shines as Viola de Lesseps who disguises herself as a boy in order to secure a role on the stage.  Her delivery of the verse is second-to-none, although the play misses the opportunity to make the most of Will’s apparent attraction to someone of the same sex, as in Twelfth Night, say.

The ever-excellent Jack Hobbis is, have a guess, excellent as ever in his portrayal of harried theatre manager Henslowe, with superb timing and a performance that is just the right side of Carry On.  The mighty James David Knapp absolutely storms it as the larger-than-life actor Ned Alleyn, while Joe Palmer is suitably entitled and horrible as villain of the piece, Wessex.

Also great are Mark Thompson as the bullish financier Fennyman who taps into his artistic side when he lands the role of the apothecary; Phil Rea as a deliciously bombastic Burbage; and Pat Dixon-Dale as Viola’s long-suffering Nurse.  Jaz Davison’s imperious Queen Elizabeth is not without nuance.

There are many pleasing moments from supporting players: Charles Hubbard as boy-actor Sam; Dylan Guiney-Bailey as a bloodthirsty Webster; Niall Higgins as the Nurse within the play; Simon King as a riverboat cabbie…

A taut consort of musicians and vocalists provide period music to underscore the action and to cover transitions, and it all sounds perfectly lovely under Gary Spruce’s musical direction.  There are a few moments when the music almost drowns the dialogue – luckily Mark Thompson is often around to tell them to shut up!

Director Michael Barry keeps the action well-focussed on an often busy stage – the period choreography is charming and doesn’t get in the way of the action.  Keith Harris’s gorgeous set is backed by beautiful scenic projections, with Kaz Luckins’s fight direction adding authenticity as well as excitement.

A fine and funny fabrication that demonstrates the high quality production values on which the Crescent prides itself.  All in all, an evening of excellent entertainment.

Oh, and there’s a good bit with a dog!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Oh boy! Bethany Gilbert as Viola and Oliver Jones as Will (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

Straight Acting

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 17th August, 2022

Less of a musical and more of a revue, this show which has enjoyed one of the longest runs in American theatre history, charts, through unconnected scenes, songs and vignettes, the course of love (true, or otherwise) of heterosexual people.  When theatre holds up a mirror to life, it either validates what it shows or poses questions.  Many people (straight ones) will recognise something of themselves in the character types and cliched moments on view, but from a queer perspective, the show takes on a completely different meaning.  This is what your lives are like, the show tells straight people, and you are living a narrow nightmare of convention, societal expectations and guilt trips.  The laughter of recognition should be followed through by a cringe or two at the very least. 

The cast of six (customarily the piece is performed by four) work hard to pull it off, and it requires a certain set of skills to swiftly establish characters and emotions at the drop of a hat.  Every member of this sextet has the talent, the skill – and the considerable energy it takes! – to deliver this demanding cavalcade of songs and sketches.

Jimmy Roberts’s score is serviceable rather than memorable, containing a variety of styles.  Some standout numbers include I Will Be Loved Tonight performed by Hannah Lyons, and Hey There, Single Gal/Guy in which a pair of disappointed parents lay a guilt trip on their son and his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.

Recognising the undiluted heteronormativity of the piece, directors Mark Shaun Walsh and Neve Lawler give one of the songs an LGBTQ+ twist, showing that the gays can have long-term relationships too, and have the same fears and doubts as everyone else.  The number Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You, is beautifully sung by Walsh, and this feels like one of those moments of validation I talked about.  This tweak broadens the scope of the material.

There is also some relief where single life is not depicted as a terrible condition that must be cured as soon as possible: the second act opener Always A Bridesmaid has the wonderful Kimberley Maynard revelling in her independence in a rousing countryfied number.

Some of the material is old hat (men not stopping to ask for directions) but some of it is acutely observant.  The monologue of a divorced woman making a dating video is painfully funny and superbly delivered by Hannah Lyons.  It also goes to show how the world has moved on from the world of the show, now that apps like Tinder dominate the dating experience.  The libretto could do with an update to make it more directly relevant.

The cast take full advantage of this opportunity to showcase their skills: Jack Kirby as a husband and father who has transferred his affections to his car; Luke Plimmer and Anya McCutcheon Wells as a pair of elderly people meeting at a funeral, in the show’s most sentimental sequence.  All in all, it’s flawlessly presented, with musical duo Chris Arnold (piano) and Lizi Toney (violin) giving virtuoso performances of the score’s diverse demands.

Given the almost relentless parodying of heterosexuality, I write in the notebook I keep on my knee, “Is the writer gay?”.  At home I look up Joe DiPietro.  He is.  Ten points to me!

An enjoyable evening of laughter, with the occasional poignant moment.  To sum up: I liked it, it’s imperfect, needs change.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Gangsters’ Paradise

BUGSY MALONE

The REP, Birmingham, Friday 29th July 2022

Alan Parker’s much-loved film comes to the stage in this exuberant touring production that originated at London’s Lyric Theatre.  As in the movie, the roles (the principal ones, at least) are played by child actors.  It’s New York in the 1930s, a city dominated by the gangland rivalry between Fat Sam and Dapper Dan.  The latter has the upper hand, thanks to the advent of a new weapon, the splurge gun.  Sam’s men are getting splattered, or ‘splurged’ at an alarming rate.  This is organised paintballing.  While the deaths are quite graphically executed, so to speak, the actors get up again and walk off, just like a child’s game.  Sam strives to regain dominance by tracking down the source of the new guns.  Meanwhile, the eponymous Bugsy is trying to raise the dough to get his new love interest, Blousey, to Hollywood…

As crime boss Fat Sam, Albie Snelson throws his weight around convincingly, portraying the long-suffering, the short fuse, to perfection.  He is supported by a host of characters played by the slightly-older chorus, ensuring his scenes are a lot of fun.  Jasmine Sakyiama’s statuesque gangster’s moll, Tallulah has a dignity and knowingness to her, but lacks the jadedness of Jodie Foster, but this production keeps almost everything upbeat.  As Sam’s rival, Dandy Dan, Desmond Cole has an unquestionable authority.

Mia Lakha’s Blousey, the wannabe star, proves she can deliver the goods, belting out a couple of torch songs that suggest this Blousey will go far. Special mentions go to Aidan Oti for his sweet but downtrodden Fizzy, and Mohamed Bangura as burly boxer Leroy.

In the title role, the diminutive Gabriel Payne gives a phenomenal performance, with singing and dancing that takes my breath away but not, apparently, his.  It’s as though Billy Elliott has turned to crime.  His acting his top drawer.   In fact, across the board, the stylised Noo Yoik accents are done well, suiting the snappy dialogue of Parker’s script. While the screenplay revels in its own cinematic artifice, the stage adaptation acknowledges its theatricality, in an almost Brechtian way. Fat Sam having to change his own scene, kvetching about it as he does so, is just one example.

The score is marvellous, with all music and lyrics by Paul Williams, and it’s a treat to be reminded of his brilliance.  Drew McOnie’s lively choreography brings us all the period tropes of the dancing of the era but strings them together in a manner that seems fresh and new.

Children acting as adults shows us the childishness of the adults’ behaviour, leading to nothing but death and destruction.  I would have liked more splurge in the climactic bloodbath, for the stage to be awash with foam and custard pies, but the point is made.  Society needs to put down its guns and ditch the territorial attitude if any of us is to have a chance to survive.

Exhilarating!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Little big man: Gabriel Payne as Bugsy and Jasmine Sakyiama as Tallulah (Photo: Johan Persson)