Jest End

Jest End’s sideswipes at London’s most loved (or at least best known) musicals may be affectionate, but no punches are pulled.

Taking well known melodies and fashioning humorous lyrics around them is a joke that works throughout, thanks to the acuity and skill of the satire. It also helps that all four cast members are exceptionally strong vocally.

The show works best when it deals with current shows – references to Phill Jupitus’ Hairspray role and John Barrowman’s turn in La Cage aux Folles are both acknowledged. Indeed, it is Chris Thatcher’s portrayal of Barrowman, along with similarly wicked send-ups of Michael Ball and Cameron Mackintosh, that steals the show. The latter is part of a sequence of numbers that uses Oliver! to mine a rich seam of material, whether of producers reviving old adaptations, or hard-working actresses being overlooked in favour of reality TV show winners.

One or two numbers feel a little dated, such as a number about Jersey Boys usurping Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward. And ironically, it is a song about the West End’s numerous flops that strikes the only duff note of the evening. But these are small issues in an evening full of riotous comedy.

Jermyn Street, London
November 17-December 20
Author/director: Garry Lake
Producer: Jest End Productions
Cast: Jodie Jacobs, Laura Brydon, Chris Thatcher, Stuart Matthew Price
Running time: 1hr 40mins

* Reviewed for The Stage

Scouts in Bondage

Every sketch show has scenarios which, while amusing in moderate amounts, outstay their welcome. Imagine such a sketch stretched out to the best part of two hours and you have Scouts in Bondage.

Glenn Chandler’s comedy, a sequel to last year’s Boys of the Empire, sees a troop of 1930s Boy Scouts crash land in Afghanistan while on their way to a jamboree. They end up caught in a plot between British intelligence and the local warring factions in one of several satirical swipes at 21st century attitudes to Britain’s involvement in the region.

Narration is provided by Mark Farrelly as the editor of Scout Magazine, whose increasingly anarchic performance is the highlight of the evening. The scouts, though, work on a more one-note level which, although it pastiches the Boys’ Own stylings of the era, quickly begins to grate and actively works against any attempt to portray anything deeper.

On several occasions, the production seems unable to find the line between lampooning the casual racism of the age and just joining in. And while there are good laughs to be had throughout, the overall impression is of a production that got too carried away with the title’s double entendre to tighten up the script as much as needed.

King’s Head, Islington
November 12-January 10, 2010
Author: Glenn Chandler
Director: Terence Barton
Producer: Boys of the Empire Productions
Cast: Brage Bang, Christopher Birks, Mark Farrelly, Christopher Finn, Alastair Mavor, Timothy Welling
Running time: 1hr 50mins

* Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/26254/scouts-in-bondage)

Zombie Prom, Landor Theatre

An affectionate pastiche of both teenage musicals and fifties America’s obsession with all things nuclear, Zombie Prom is a fun show from start to finish.

Teenage tearaway Jonny is distraught. His girlfriend, Toffee, has succumbed to parental pressure and broken up with him, so he commits suicide by jumping into the local power plant’s toxic waste dump.

Somewhat ironically, Jonathan Vickers’ performance as Jonny only really comes alive once his character is dead, brought back to life as a radioactive zombie corpse. His twitching, knock-kneed portrayal is captivating without becoming too distracting and is a demonstration of subtlety in a production which otherwise delights in caring not for such things.

The spirit of the musical genre is perfectly portrayed by Grace Harrington’s delightful choreography and good use of period costume. Less effective is the set, which fails to use the Landor’s idiosyncrasies to any advantage, save for an explosive surprise in Act I.

The young cast go hell for leather, with an ensemble that, in the confines of such a small space, has a tendency to overpower the vocals of the two leads. And that’s a terrible shame, because Sophie Isaacs as Toffee has an incredible voice that deserves to be heard.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/25981/zombie-prom)_

Book and lyrics: John Dempsey
Music: Dana P Rowe
Producer: Christopher D Clegg
Cast: Simon Cole, Jonathan Vickers, Sophie Isaacs, Ben Baker, Ross Aldred, Darren John, Katie Lowe, Tiffany Jones, Lucy May Barker, Sally Bankes
Director: Ian McFarlane
Design: Ben Upton
Lighting: Tim Deiling
Choreography: Grace Harrington
Musical direction: George Dyer
Running time: 1hr 50mins

La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

No matter how brash, how funny, how camp La Cage aux Folles gets – and it is frequently all three at once – it is at its best in the moments of quiet, defined as they are by the freneticism that surround them.

Philip Quast, returning to the role of Georges that he held in this production’s original run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is the quintessential light entertainment showman, running the Riviera’s best transvestite show bar and barely keeping the athletic dancers, the Cagelles, in check.

Georges’ home life provides the spur for the show’s plot, as his son Jean-Michel (Stuart Neal) tries to ‘straighten up’ his family in preparation for meeting his right wing prospective father in law. This means the enforced absence of Georges’ temperamental partner Albin, who is determined not to be sidelined quietly.

And it is Roger Allam’s performance as Albin that defines the dramatic shape of the show. His vocal performance, while it is not of the calibre of Quast’s, conveys the emotion of a man whose 20-year relationship risks being swept under the carpet. For all the sequins, feathers and mascara, the single element that defines La Cage aux Folles is a brief moment of stillness at the head of the show’s principal number, I Am What I Am. Allam is the master of the unspoken, and a single pause is simply heartbreaking.

The biggest laughs may come from Jason Pennycooke’s puckish servant Jacob, but the strength of the whole cast helps one overlook some of the weaker numbers and instead revel in a joyous, warm-hearted, still subversive comedy.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/24371/la-cage-aux-folles)_

**Playhouse, London**, May 11-January 9
**Authors:** Jerry Herman (music and lyrics), Harvey Fierstein (book), based on the play by Jean Poiret
**Director:** Terry Johnson
**Producers:** Chocolate Factory Productions, Sonia Friedman Productions, David Ian Productions, The Ambassador Theatre Group, David Mirvish, Tulchin/Bartner, Jamie Hendry
**Cast includes:** Roger Allam, Philip Quast, Stuart Neal, Jason Pennycooke, Tracie Bennett, Alicia Davies
**Running time:** 2hr 45min

French and Saunders – Still Alive

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“This is getting a bit silly,” Dawn French admits at one point. She’s not wrong, but things get even sillier from that point on, which is just what a French and Saunders live show should do.

A celebration of the duo’s 30-year partnership, Still Alive takes time to warm up. While the mock bickering and characteristic flitting in and out of character work just as well on stage as they have done on screen, there are more than a few duff moments in the first half that threaten to overshadow some of the incredibly funny material that surrounds it.

Characters such as the ladies from Prickly Pear Farm mask some very weak writing with comedy West Country accents, and a joke about the lack of a fourth wall ends up as a prop without a joke.

When the sketches work, though, they really fly. The original role-reversal sketch that was to give birth to Absolutely Fabulous is amongst the many classic moments revived on stage, itself feeding into the couple’s ongoing banter about who has developed the bigger solo career, a running theme that pays off handsomely at the end of the show.

Onstage sketches are interspersed with newly shot video footage of some of French and Saunders’ best characters. The video message from Princess Catherine Zeta Spartacus Douglas Jones has the audience in stitches, as do Jackie and Joan Collins.

While there are many sketches and film spoofs whose absence may disappoint, the overall feeling at the end of this, what French and Saunders say is their last sketch collaboration together, is one of celebration.

Reviewed for The Stage

French and Saunders – Still Alive3Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 13:03:54“This is getting a bit silly,” Dawn French admits at one point. She’s not wrong, but things get even sillier from that point on, which is just w…

Monty Python’s Spamalot, Palace Theatre

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The revolving portcullis at Castle Camelot has struck again, with comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar becoming the final King Arthur of the show’s London run.

It is clear from the outset that neither singing nor dancing are Bhaskar’s strengths, but he adequately compensates with a sense of comic timing and a taste for the absurd that are just what the role requires. While he is physically towered over by his cohort of knights and Andrew Spillet’s faithful squire Patsy, Bhaskar succeeds in ensuring that his Arthur still dominates regally.

In a cast where everyone is clearly having a blast, Nina Soderquist stands out in her role as the Lady in the Lake. Any role delivering so many pastiches of musical theatre cliches only works if it is delivered by someone who reveres the genre, and Soderquist patently fits the bill.

Plotwise, Spamalot’s rampage through the greatest scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (plus a few bits from other Python sources) works best when it doesn’t try to deviate too strongly from the original source material. Indeed, the weakest part of the whole show comes with the bizarre second act song about how West End shows won’t work without Jews. It’s an aphorism that may have more relevance to the show’s Broadway roots, but here it just manages to feel slightly offensive without having enough humour to justify itself.

When the jokes come as thick and fast as Eric Idle’s script, though, even the occasional misfire can be forgiven.

Reviewed for The Stage

Monty Python’s Spamalot, Palace Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 13:18:02The revolving portcullis at Castle Camelot has struck again, with comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar becoming the final King Arthur of the show’s London ru…

I Love You Because, Landor Theatre

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Witty tales of New York romance are a staple of both musical theatre and TV sitcom, and I Love You Because stands up favourably in comparison with the best of them.

Ryan Cunningham and Joshua Salzman’s musical examines the love lives of geeky Austin (Daniel Boys) and devil may care brother Jeff (Richard Frame), one trying to win back a girlfriend by feigning disinterest and the other trying to have a good time without getting emotionally involved.

Apart from the opening number, where his vocals are overwhelmed by the stronger voices of his five cast mates, Boys delivers an impressive performance, rising in confidence and stature throughout, both as character and performer. Jodie Jacobs and Debbie Kurup excel in their roles of potential love interests, ably backed up by Mark Goldthorp and Lucy Williamson. But even among such an impressive ensemble, it’s Frame’s exuberance and comic timing that shines.

Rob McWhir’s direction ensures that some of the songs’ knowing Vaudevillian excesses are counterpointed by acutely observed small moments throughout. And, while the show may not end on its strongest musical number, the message that the show conveys – one should love someone, or something, because of their faults rather than in spite of them – applies equally well to this little gem of a musical.

Reviewed for The Stage

I Love You Because, Landor Theatre4Scott Matthewman2012-07-11 16:47:17Witty tales of New York romance are a staple of both musical theatre and TV sitcom, and I Love You Because stands up favourably in comparison with the…