Well my run of good theatre had to end eventually I guess... the combined memories of fine productions of Thomas Middleton, Arthur Miller, Terence Rattigan and Tennessee Williams crumbled after a visit to the worst funfair ever and the most laughable use of character pathos since Eliza went on the ice in UNCLE TOM'S CABIN or Tiny Tim warmed his crutch by the fire.
Owen had wanted to see one of his 70s Guilty Pleasures David Essex onstage so this seemed as good a time as any as there was the chance to hear some of his hits as well - oddly nothing from MUTINY!
He had booked for the Dress Circle but we arrived to find it closed so were moved down to the Premier Price seating. Now I have been in the Garrick circle this year to see THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED and it's only 5 rows deep so I am suspecting that it would have been just us two and the couple sitting next to Owen who would have been sat there. The stalls were hardly thriving either. Surely a major contributing factor must be the prices - £55 down to £25! For this??Mostly the audience appeared to be large 'n' loud women with their rather nervous-looking husbands who I presume were there to make sure they didn't damage themselves climbing over each other to get near their 'ero. By the noises they made they obviously overlooked little things like a woeful script, the automaton staging or the stale atmosphere of pure by-the-numbers performance.
For what it's worth, the story concerns Levi's touring funfair which has been losing punters since he closed the Wall Of Death attraction after his wife was killed during a stunt involving the two of them and their son Jack - and yes he is introduced as 'Jack the Lad'. Sigh...Also present is Rosa an Oirish fortune teller and her equally Oirish daughter who both fancy Levi and Jack respectively but to little actual interest - it's odd Mama Oirish can't see that in her cards. The coconut is REALLY knocked off it's pole when Alice - the teenager daughter of Harvey a cockney heavy - falls for Jack and the dad starts getting protective as does his dangerous sidekick Druid. I can't remember why he's called Druid, I was probably looking at the set.
Will Jack and Alice find love? Will Harvey strongarm Levi into closing his funfair? Will Rosa and daughter Mary realise that their Tarot cards ain't going to get shuffled by Levi & son? Will Levi give in to his bouncy son's pleas to re-open the dreaded Wall Of Death... and how will 'Slow Johnny' - yes you read that right 'Slow Johnny' - the twitching and simple lad who has been 'adopted' by the funfair workers fit in?
No I didn't really care either.Ok I will put my hand up and say I didn't hate it - in retrospect I'd rather sit through this than sit through SISTER ACT again - what I found teeth-grindingly bad was the total banality of Jon Conway's book with it's square-peg-in-a-round-hole approach to jamming in the hits from Mr. Essex's distant youth, paper-thin characters and gossamer-thin plot which at it's climax just stops... as if the cast couldn't stand to say those lines or play those roles a minute longer.
The ultimate punchable offence is the inclusion of the 'Slow Johnny' character. A woeful attempt at knee-jerk sympathy while also setting him up to be a character who is laughed at and not with. Added to all this he also spends most of the time walking around with a sawn-off shotgun which is referred to again and again in the time-honoured tradition of "Ooo do you think that's going to be a plot device at the climax?" In case you were curious... yes it is.... I mean, they couldn't have the bizarre final scene if he didn't get shot.
It also doesn't help that in his unrelenting performance Tim Newman speaks in a voice stolen from Matt Lucas as Margery Daws. Really.Ok time to cut to the chase:
1) the chorus work hard but don't appear to do anything apart from that godawful we-are-good-mates-who-love-each-other acting which involves putting your arms around each others shoulders, smiling as you sing into each other's faces and occasionally punching your mates arm. They also do the equally irritating bad-chorus thing of about 3 of them wandering on zombie-stylee while the leads are singing and stand grouped at the back just to provide backing vocalese - like, stay in the bloody wings and sing there!
2) Nicola Brazil as Alice will be a shoe-in should they ever do STEPHANIE LAWRENCE- THE MUSICAL as she was the spitting image of her and also sounded like her too
3) Michael Pickering as Jack The Lad actually wasn't too bad and showed some promise for better shows to come
4) Louise English as Oirish Rosa had the low wattage needed by a production that needs a female co-star who won't pull focus
5) Christopher Timothy was ok - absolutely nothing to do but at least did it with a panache
6) I don't like him particularly but datgummit there is no denying David Essex is a genuine star, you notice him when he is onstage. It's just a shame that he is not bringing that wattage to a better show that might give him something more to do than chill out in his star vehicle and every so-often shoot cute glimpses at the adoring fans to make them shout out loud.
7) His score was insistent but not without it's nice spots - I really liked a moody ballad early in the 2nd act called "You're In My Heart" - but it's a shame that his hit songs stuck out so glaringly and were signposted a mile before they arrived.
8) There was no megamix for which I was profoundly grateful.
9) Ian Westbrook had designed a remarkably unoriginal set bearing in mind it was a fairground but dear God I was happy to gaze up and around it while the gurning feeb act was on.
10) For a while I was impressed with the sound design which included ominous muted soundscapes which were heard every so often, no doubt to remind us that it was bound to end in tears... then remembered that whatever you see at the Garrick it's punctuated every 5 minutes with the sound of the Northern Line.
All in all, a show I really cannot recommend.
But all the time I was there I was aware of being just happy to be sitting in a theatre. Says a lot about me that...