Let’s set the scene. Row A of the Menier. They couldn’t have positioned those seats lower to the floor. Really difficult to get in and out of the seats. You had to stretch your legs out to get any purchase. I was expecting a geisha to serve tea any minute. Also a bit on the side. Not too bad for our seats but the guys to our left must really have seen nothing more than a cardboard proscenium arch.
Anyway we are in a 1904 Music Hall and welcomed by the lively and opinionated MC; and because we remember Leonard Sachs so well, we knew how to react and join in with all the big words. The cast do an opening number (just as they do after the interval) and it’s all very jolly and “knowing winky”. Then we get into the main story, courtesy of an introduction from the Everyman character of Thomas Marvel (Gary Wilmot) and the show gets played out. I’m not sure the main story was really integrated with this Music Hall framework. It worked well enough, but almost by accident, I felt.
Most of the first half felt frenetic, without any firm structure. The last scene in particular felt very long; there was a lot of physical business that they clearly wanted to get in, and it just felt a bit too…too. It was much improved after the interval when the freneticism somehow felt more engaging; and by the end I was well happy with the show.
Gary Wilmot is such a top performer, it was slightly odd to see him in a show where he had no song-and-dance to do. But he creates a super warm link with the audience in this intimate space and is a joy to watch. Underused too in that respect is Maria Friedman with only a little song-and-dance; bossing her way through the show as the dominating pub landlady and also being a joy. Underused in a different way is John Gordon Sinclair as Mr Invisible as he normally has marvellously expressive facial gestures which in this show you don’t get to see! Add to this great supportive performances from Christopher Godwin (Ayckbournian stalwart) and Teddy Kempner (I saw him as Snoopy about 100 years ago) which keep the show going at a great pace and I thought Natalie Casey as the moaning maid Millie was actually quite brilliant.
Plus you also have a nice selection of magic tricks and effects. From our side Row A vantage point we could see how a few of them worked (for example pouring the wine into the glass in the air, and the floating handkerchief). Others were still totally baffling, and extremely effective.
So basically it’s an enjoyable romp. Nothing that’s grim, nothing that’s Greek. Pure entertainment. Occasionally you could let your mind wander and then return a minute or so later and it wouldn’t be a problem. A very nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.