Review – Me and My Girl, Festival Theatre, Chichester, 11th August 2018

Me and My GirlThe Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle was the poshest person you could ever meet who also claimed to be a Cockney Sparrer. Any show, programme, book or film that had a whiff of the East End about it (or even better, the West End) and she’d be there like a shot. Thus it was that she and I went to see the original production of this revised version of Me and My Girl at the Adelphi Theatre 33 years ago, gasp. It made a star of Emma Thompson, and confirmed Robert Lindsay as the second-best song and dance man in Britain (after Michael Crawford). The current Mrs Chrisparkle and I, together with assorted members of her family, saw a revival in Milton Keynes in 2006, which was more notable for the supporting cast of Dillie Keane as the Duchess, the late Trevor Bannister as Sir John, and Sylvester McCoy as a splendid Parchester. And now the Lambeth Walk is back on the elegantly middle-class streets (avenues?) of Chichester, Oi!

Bill Me and My Girl is a pure feelgood show, that plays upon the age-old themes of rags to riches and the class divide; the common as muck hero lording it over the beautifully-bred gentry. Think Penelope Keith’s Margo versus Richard Briers’ Tom, Charlie Drake persistently aggravating Henry McGee, or Eliza Doolittle taking revenge on Henry Higgins. Higgins even fulfils a remote role in this story, and I’m sure you can guess what it is! Bill Snibson, wisecracking costermonger of the parish of Lambeth, is revealed to be the new Earl of Hareford, heir to a magnificent estate and fortune, all because of some irregular hows-your-father committed by the 13th Earl. But there is a condition; the new heir has to be considered to be a fit and proper person to assume the title; and Bill is, to coin a phrase, as rough as guts. Can Bill convince the Duchess, Sir John and their entourage that he and his girl Sally fit into high society? Does he even want to? Or is he a permanent fixture, South of the River? You’ll have to watch the show to find out!

Take it on the ChinFew creative masters can put together an exuberant, crowd-pleasing musical like the dream team of Daniel Evans (director), Lez Brotherston (design) and Alistair David (choreography). It worked in Sheffield, with their productions of My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Anything Goes, and Show Boat, and it’s still working in Chichester with this superb production. Mr Brotherston’s set opens up like a 3-D Advent Calendar, with opaque windows barely concealing partygoers inside; open a door and you get lovely glimpses of priceless tapestries beyond the back of the stage. Noblesse Oblige is the Hareford family motto; and Mr Brotherston does it proud. The costumes and props suggest immaculate taste in preference to creature comforts; Hareford Hall was never going to be a comfy and cosy sort of place, was it? Tim Mitchell’s lighting compliments the set perfectly and gives extra depth to some of the big choreographed numbers – The Lambeth Walk looks particularly beguiling. And Gareth Valentine’s orchestra never has a dull moment with a constant range of great tunes and fantastic arrangements; with the top of Mr Valentine’s head peeping out from a cut out triangle in the stage floor, I kept on hoping that the dancers don’t put a foot wrong and land up on top of him. Not as much as Mr Valentine does, I expect.

Leaning on a lamp...The original book by L Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber was revised by a young Stephen Fry (whatever happened to him?) back in the 1980s and still comes across as fresh and cheeky, with some puntastic lines for Bill to offend the dignified ears of the gentry. Noel Gay’s music still sounds sweet and tuneful. Not only the famous Lambeth Walk, and the title song Me and My Girl, but also the quirky fun of You Would if You Could, Take it on the Chin, and Parchester’s irrepressible The Family Solicitor. If you’ve only ever thought of Leaning on a Lamppost as a George Formby comedy number, you’ll be amazed at how beautiful it is as a romantic ballad. And to cap it all, there’s the terrific silliness of The Sun Has Got His Hat On. Removed from the running order, for some reason, is the delicately funny and sad If Only You Had Cared For Me, performed by the Duchess and Sir John; it’s a perfect little song that gives us an insight into what their lives could have been like, if only one of them had had the courage to say something. I say: reinstate it!

Me and My Girl in personPopular comic actor Matt Lucas plays Bill Snibson, and he absolutely looks the part. Garishly bedecked in a loud checked suit – all colour and no taste, the complete opposite of the Harefords – he’s quite nifty on his feet given he’s a slightly chunkier chap, and there’s an unexpectedly endearing nature to his vocal tone. He bats out the cockney patter like a regular at the Elephant and Castle and his comic timing is excellent. Oddly, he stumbled over a couple of his lines earlier on and never stopped referring back to it throughout the rest of the show; I sense he was less at ease about his little faux pas than the rest of us were; we’d forgiven him and forgotten about it ages ago.

Doing the Lambeth WalkVery good as he was, what his performance lacked for me was a little extra depth in the emotions. I know it’s just a silly and fluffy musical, but these are real people in real predicaments. You never felt the physical and mental anguish of Bill’s being deliberately separated from Sally. His voice never betrayed that doubtful uncertainty of being a fish out of water. All his emotions and reactions were essentially superficial; a little too comic-book and not sufficiently heartfelt for my liking. I found myself wondering what Robert Lindsay was doing that evening. I felt that slight superficiality also extended to his Sally, the wonderful Alex Young, whom we have seen so many times and is always a delight. True, she sang the lovely Once You Lose Your Heart with a beautiful sense of tragedy, and she masterminded the stage invasion that is the start of The Lambeth Walk. But I felt there was less chemistry when she was actually singing alongside Mr Lucas. By the way, her transformation from Lambeth Sally to the refined potential Lady Hareford was immaculately realised.

DuchessThe true star of the evening was Caroline Quentin who gives a huge performance – vocally, comedically, and even choreographically. Perfectly treading that fine line between a Christine Hamilton-style battle-axe and being a kindly matriarch with a twinkle in her eye and a heart of gold, Ms Quentin convincingly shows throughout how, for the sake of tradition, she desperately wants Bill to succeed as the new Earl, because That’s How Things Are Done. She effortlessly slides in to the comic set pieces, such as helping Bill practise meeting grand dignitaries at his party; she throws herself into the Lambeth Walk, so much so that she could become the Pearly Queen of Tunbridge Wells. It’s a brilliant performance throughout. Clive Rowe, too, has a fine old time as Sir John; a perfect comedy foil to Mr Lucas whilst being a supportive arm for Ms Quentin.

As the family solicitor, here's what you have to doDominic Marsh is excellent as Gerald; not quite like one of Ray Alan’s Lord Charles’ Silly Arses so he remains a credible character, joyfully leading us through The Sun Has Got His Hat On, and entertainingly reuniting with the excellent and frightful Lady Jackie (Siubhan Harrison) with the most effective kiss ever planted on woman’s lips. And there’s a frolicsomely fun performance from Jennie Dale as Parchester, who finds refuge from the dryness of a legal career through the medium of song and dance. I’ve not seen Parchester played by a woman before, but there’s absolutely no reason why she shouldn’t be. If anything, I’d liked to have seen Messrs Evans and David allow Ms Dale even more free rein to cavort all over the stage. Having occasionally to repress her irrepressibility was rather sad!

So jump into your sunbathLast Saturday night’s show was pretty much sold out; and these final two weeks of the run are looking fairly cramped too. A terrific production that would certainly suit one of these hugely successful Chichester/West End transfers. This one will have you travelling home afterwards, beaming from ear to ear. Oi!

Production photos by Johan Persson

Review – Show Boat, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 2nd January 2016

Show BoatA dim and distant memory from my childhood is the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle playing an LP (that’s what they were called in those days) with highlights from Show Boat on one side and Roberta on the other. I remembered the tunes being, on the whole, pretty enjoyable. Pursuant to following up these memories, sometime in my 20s I discovered the album of Roberta (probably in Tower Records, remember that?) took it home, played it, hated it, and never played it again. However, I never got round to buying an album of Show Boat, and I guess the songs from that show left my conscious mind and settled somewhere in the back of my subconscious, waiting for an unlocking moment when I would finally get round to seeing a production of the show myself.

Cotton BlossomArtistic Director of the Crucible, Daniel Evans, is on his way south to taking up the reins at Chichester this summer. For his Sheffield Christmas musical swansong, he couldn’t have chosen a better production than Show Boat. Considered the first “modern” musical, it was adapted from Edna Ferber’s 1926 novel by no less than the renowned Jerome Kern and a still relatively young Oscar Hammerstein II. It was produced by the legendary Florenz Ziegfeld (of the Follies fame) and first hit the stage in 1927 with its significant multiracial cast and its, for the time, almost unique structure combining music, lyrics and libretto.

Frank and EllieThe show boat seems a quaint institution today, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America they were at the heart of bringing entertainment to communities outside the big cities. Ferber’s novel follows three generations of women through the history of running and working on one of these vessels. The musical adaptation concentrates less on the characterisation of the women and more on general life aboard the show boat, specifically the relationship between Magnolia and Gaylord from their hopeful beginnings to their somewhat desolate conclusion.

Rebecca TrehearnCaptain Andy runs the Cotton Blossom, a show boat that chugs up and down the Mississippi, full of actors, singers and dancers, backstage hands, kitchen staff and boat mechanics. Andy is married to the redoubtable Parthenia, and their daughter Magnolia is entranced by the glamour of life on board. She’s also entranced with handsome gambler Gaylord Ravenal (you have to admit, these names are priceless today). Two of the boat’s leading performers, Julie and Steve, are charged with miscegenation, as it was illegal for a white man and a black woman to marry. Even though they evade the law, they are forced to leave the boat, as it was not acceptable for black people to appear before the white segregated audience. In retrospect it’s easy to see why this was such a ground-breaking show! Magnolia and Gaylord take Julie and Steve’s place, and eventually get married. They move to Chicago and have a daughter, Kim; but Gaylord’s gambling crashes out of control and, unable to support his family, he moves out. And I’ll leave the plot synopsis there because if you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t want to ruin it for you!

Michael XavierI must draw your attention, gentle reader, to the fact that this is one of those edgy experiences in the theatre where some characters use the N word. It’s amazing the impact it can have on an audience. When Scout innocently blurted it out in To Kill a Mockingbird, we all winced. Its usage in Show Boat is possibly even more uncomfortable, as it both accompanies the mindless mistreatment of the black dock workers as well as the legal harassment of Steve and Julie. Still, IMHO, it’s better to include it than to sanitise the show, and, to be honest, you get great theatrical intensity out of it. Incidentally, why is it acceptable to use the N word on stage like this but that famous Agatha Christie book has now been substantially amended to And Then There Were None? I’m merely wondering about the inconsistency.

Gina BeckEnough of that, what about the score? It’s really one of history’s most rewarding musicals from a purely musical point of view. As the show started to unwrap my subconscious memories of the Dowager Mrs C singing along whilst attending to chores, I was amazed to realise how many superb and well-known songs are performed in this show. Ol’ Man River, of course, was no surprise – one of the most stirring, moving and simply beautiful songs ever to come out of musical theatre. But I couldn’t believe my ears when, just a little way into the show Gaylord and Magnolia sing Only Make Believe. It was like a sudden blast from the past hitting my auditory nerves. It’s such a sweet and touching song, and I don’t think I’ve heard it since maybe before I was a teenager. I had to fight back the urge to sing along, because all the words came to me instantly. Of course, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man is an absolute classic, and the show demonstrates how versatile it is by the number of different styles and arrangements that suit it perfectly. Bill is another sweet song that the Dowager used to perform at the drop of a hat – and is a complete show-stopper in this production. Originally written by Kern with P G Wodehouse in 1917, the words were later adapted by Hammerstein. And another old favourite suddenly appeared, that I had no idea was from this show – After The Ball. I would have put money on that being a Noel Coward song. Actually, neither is correct. It was written by Charles K Harris in 1892, and is simply borrowed for use in Show Boat, as an example of a typical type of song that might have been sung in that era. Captain Andy encourages us, the audience, to sing along – although he doesn’t actually mean us, he means the audience who were watching Magnolia perform that song in the Trocadero on that New Year’s Eve. Nevertheless, I needed no second bidding and gave it my all, much to the embarrassment of Mrs Chrisparkle. I couldn’t help it. As Cat Stevens once said, I can’t keep it in, I just gotta let it out.

Lucy BriersThe production is a credit to everyone involved. When you find out the sets are by Lez Brotherston, you know they are going to be superb – and they are. David White’s band produce a fantastic sound from their little subterranean cubbyhole. Alistair David’s choreography is fresh and lively, using the maximum space that the Crucible can allow and incorporating many different styles. And the amazing cast, studded with people who are absolutely at the top of their game, perform with true commitment and sincerity, producing some scenes of real raw emotion, as well as musical delight.

Emmanuel KojoIn fact I was surprised – and excited – to see so many names in the cast whose work I’ve been lucky enough to see before and have really enjoyed. Gina Beck, whom I last saw when she was pouring me a drink at the cabaret tables in the excellent Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, brings youthful enthusiasm to the young Magnolia, and dignified regret and grim determination to the sadder Magnolia of later years. She has a wonderful purity to her voice, and gives a very personal expression to all her songs. It’s a great performance. She’s matched, in the marriage stakes at least, by the fantastic Michael Xavier, who we last saw giving it large as Cornelius in the Curve’s Hello Dolly. He cuts a dashing figure as the young Gaylord – and I found his portrayal of the pitifully washed-up older man very moving. Of course, he sings with amazing resonance and clarity, and the two perform together brilliantly.

Allan CordunerEveryone who goes to see Show Boat will be looking forward to – and have high expectations of – the performance of Ol’ Man River. So no pressure there! It falls to Emmanuel Kojo to take the part of Joe, whom we last saw as one of the Scottsboro Boys, and he takes to it like the proverbial duck to water. Tremendous raw emotion, a quiet, solid dignity, highly believable as an ordinary, hard-working man with no prospect of ever bettering himself, but strangely secure in his own position. You might think that the show will centre on this song, but in fact it comes quite early on, and, although there are a couple of reprises, it’s not the essence of the show in the way that you might suspect. Joe has his Queenie, the Cotton Blossom’s cook, played by the powerful Sandra Marvin, whom we last saw dishing it out as the devious Mama Morton in Chicago. Ms Marvin gives us the moving Mis’ry’s Coming Aroun’, the uplifting Hey Feller, and, with Mr Kojo, the two of them combine with great humour and a lightness of touch for the utterly charming I Still Suits Me – think of a 1920s Mississippi version of Alesha Dixon’s The Boy Does Nothing. If the likes of Ellie and Frank are on the way up in this world, and Magnolia and Gaylord are on the way down, Joe and Queenie represent a constant level; forever working hard to stay in the same place, rather like the incessant flow of the ol’ man river itself, they just keep rolling along.

Alex Young and Danny CollinsAlex Young (brilliant in both last year’s Anything Goes and the touring High Society a few years ago gives another chirpy and cute performance as Ellie, the rising star, and she is matched by the brilliant Danny Collins, a fantastic dancer whose performances we have enjoyed both as part of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty company and Drew McOnie’s Drunk, here giving us his full stagey showdance routines. Allan Corduner is a bluff and avuncular Captain Andy, and Lucy Briers perfect as the grim and grumpy Parthy, seriously channelling what Captain Andy calls her “mean disposition”. We saw her recently equally grim and grumpy in the Young Chekhov season at Chichester, and before that in the Royal and Derngate’s Ayckbourn season back in 2009. I’d love to see her play a cheerful role for a change! I also really enjoyed the performances of Rebecca Trehearn as Julie and Bob Harms as Steve (and many other characters) – Mr Harms is getting to be a bit of a regular in Sheffield, and that can only be A Good Thing. I’m not going to mention everyone, but the entire cast get behind the show with such attack and talent that the show whizzes past in the blink of an eye.

Sandra Marvin and Emmanuel KojoAnother great Christmas Crucible production. I waited many years finally to see Show Boat on stage and it was well worth the wait! It’s on till 23rd January so you still have time to jump aboard the Cotton Blossom. My only hope now is that Daniel Evans’ successor will be equally as adept at staging these great musicals – and that Mr Evans will also have the opportunity to bring his own aptitude for musicals to the Chichester programme; that would be a win-win!

Production photos by Johan Persson

Review – Anything Goes, Sheffield Crucible, 3rd January 2015

Anything GoesIf you’ve followed the first part of our annual post-Christmas Sheffield shindig, you’ll know that Mrs Chrisparkle and I, together with Lady Duncansby and her butler William enjoyed a riotous afternoon of panto comedy with Dick Whittington. After hotel check-in, a brief nap and woofing down a Café Rouge Salad Paysanne and Coupe Rouge, it was time to return to the Crucible to see Daniel Evans’ production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. About ten years ago, Mrs C and I took the Dowager Mrs C to see Trevor Nunn’s version at Drury Lane. I think she quite enjoyed it – I think we both found it a trifle dull. In many respects, it’s the kind of musical I usually don’t like much – lots of set pieces, very slight story, a stop-starty structure; designed to be entertaining for its two and a half hours duration, then disappearing into the ether once it’s over – pure stage candy floss. I like my musicals to have a bit more oomph, some depth, and some tragedy mixed in with the comedy.

Debbie KurupIn a nutshell, Anything Goes is the simple tale of person a) being in love with b) but b) is engaged to c) and d) quite fancies a) too. A)’s boss e) is travelling to England on board the SS American but so are b) and c) and even though a) might well lose his job over it, he doesn’t get off the ship so that he can tell b) how much he loves her. Meanwhile f) and g) are on the run from the law and the whole lot of them end up on board ship; and 165 minutes later, they all live happily ever after. Not a lot to it really. To be fair, there is a fascinating sub-theme running through the show regarding the cult of celebrity – which is here seen as very amoral. When a) is suspected of being Snake-Eyes Johnson (Public Enemy No 1), rather than be terrified of him or want him captured and taken off the ship, the passengers all want his autograph and he gets to sit on the Captain’s Table. But when he is revealed as just simple a), he goes from hero to zero in a split-second. Apart from that, it’s a plot as slim as Mr Creosote’s wafer-thin mint.

I Get A KickThe thing is, Cole Porter knew how to write a choon. Depending on your definitions (and taste), this show contains at least six show-stoppers, five of them before the interval, which makes for a slight sense of imbalance. I Get A Kick Out Of You was one the first Cole Porter songs I loved – and that was because of Gary Shearston’s moody 1974 pop single, remember that? It’s the first song you hear in Anything Goes and it never feels to me like a show-opener, because it’s too mid-tempo, too I’ve considered the situation and this is the position I’ve arrived at and not enough opening gambit. But it’s a terrific song. Actually, I’m not really sure if any of the songs have that much connection with their alleged role in the show, they’re much more like individual celebrations of song-and-danciness. You could pick them up and plonk them down anywhere you like and they’d still work. And that’s actually what has happened. A number of them were originally in other Porter musicals – for example, Friendship was written for DuBarry Was A Lady, and It’s De-Lovely for Red, Hot and Blue – they’re generic musical numbers that can slot in anywhere. It’s no wonder you just get that slight feeling that the actual show structure is somehow compromised.

Zoe RaineyI may be giving you the impression that I didn’t enjoy this show very much, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s an outstanding production. It all looks and sounds so ravishing that no one could be immune to its charms. The cast play their parts with such verve and gusto that you get carried along on a sea of delight that masks any weaknesses in the plot.

Zoe Rainey and Matt RawleRichard Kent’s design is awash with primary colours and both Mrs C and I admired the very clever curve of the flooring upwards at the back of the stage to suggest the length of the ship carrying on way into the distance. Then there’s Alastair David’s choreography. Once again he has come up trumps with some incredible set pieces, just like he did with My Fair Lady and Oliver! The extended tap-dancing sequence to accompany the title song just before the interval is simply superb. It brings out the best in the ensemble boys and girls – extraordinarily good throughout the show – and it’s one of those theatrical moments that just lifts you to a new high; their energy transfers to the audience and fills you with more sweetness than any air freshener.

Stephen Matthews and Zoe RaineyThe whole cast are uniformly excellent. I’ve not seen Debbie Kurup before – she plays Reno Sweeney (d if you’re following the synopsis in paragraph 2), the nightclub singer who gets caught up with all sorts of shenanigans assisting her pal Billy (a) and ends up marrying posh nobility in the form of Evelyn (c). She is a fantastic entertainer. Terrific stage presence, wonderful voice, great dancer and incredibly watchable. Surely she will become a big star one day. I particularly loved her spirited rendition of Blow Gabriel Blow, another song you could more or less scoop up from any lesser show and plant as a show-stopper wherever you like. Matt Rawle plays Billy Crocker, the young Wall Street broker in love with Hope Harcourt (b) – he’s also a very talented musical performer whom we really enjoyed as Che in Evita; he glides effortlessly through this role, pattering his way expertly through You’re The Top and It’s De-Lovely.

Hugh SachsZoe Rainey – excellent in the Royal and Derngate’s Dancing at Lughnasa in 2013 – makes for a stylish, emotional Hope, making the best of her engagement to Evelyn and attempting to parry the ripostes of her mother Evangeline, played by Jane Wymark, on splendid form as usual. Then there are three very funny chaps: Stephen Matthews is a brilliant Evelyn – the epitome of the show’s Wodehousian origins (P. G. co-wrote the original book) – his great comic timing working wonders with the song The Gypsy in Me (which was originally sung by Hope – see how the songs just get criss-crossed or mixed and matched). Simon Rouse gives good bluster as Elisha Whitney (e – hope you’re keeping up) with some nice physical comedy when he gets his glasses nicked and holds out hope for a passionate experience with Evangeline. And Hugh Sachs gives a thoughtfully understated comic performance as Moonface Martin, Public Enemy No 13 and (f).

EnsembleWe loved Alex Young as Erma (g) – a real gutsy performance, full of fun. She really shines in this kind of role, just as she did in High Society a couple of years back. She’s obviously made for Cole Porter. And there’s another fantastic performance from Bob Harms as the Captain (we saw him in Pippin when he was understudying Matt Rawle and he was sensational) – Ghost and Mrs Muira great song and dance man with a terrific feeling for the comedy. If you’re old enough to remember Edward Mulhare in The Ghost and Mrs Muir, I’m sure that’s the look he was trying to achieve.

Alex Young and sailorsEnormous fun, performed with panache and flair throughout, this is has sure-fire winner written all the way through it like a stick of rock. After it leaves Sheffield the SS American is embarking on an extensive UK tour till October 2015. For sheer enjoyment this is hard to beat – I predict a lot of happy theatregoers this year!

Review – High Society, Derngate, Northampton, 9th April 2013

High SocietyThere’s always room in the calendar for a swanky revival of a glitzy old musical, and Music & Lyrics’ co-production with Venue Cymru of Cole Porter’s High Society certainly does the trick. The original musical was based on the play of The Philadelphia Story, and then a revival in 1998 souped it up with some additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, ditched a few less well-known songs and replaced them some favourite numbers from other Porter musicals; which makes a bit of a hotch-potch if you’re a Porter purist, but a real crowd-pleaser if you’re not bothered.

Sophie BouldIt’s an amusing story of rich socialite Tracy Lord preparing for her umpteenth wedding to a dreary stick-in-the-mud and the attempts to undermine it by her still-in-love ex, Dexter Haven. Add to the mix a pair of journalists wanting to get a scoop on covering the wedding, a lascivious uncle, a precocious younger sister and a chorus of maids and footmen, and it’s a recipe for a lot of fun.

Michael PraedIt looks pretty ravishing; Francis O’Connor’s sets are classy, with just the right level of Art Deco to be convincing for the late 1930s; his costumes are smart and colourful; Andrew Wright’s choreography is snappy, funny and extremely well executed (we particularly liked the Stomp-inspired routine for “Well Did You Evah”); and the band under the direction of Michael Haslam create seriously fabulous music.

Daniel BoysIt’s a great, experienced cast and they all put in a lot of work to make the evening go with a swing. Tracy Lord is played by Sophie Bould, and she’s perfect for the part. She looks beautiful, she sings with great expression, she has excellent comic timing and she got a great round of applause. We saw her understudying Maria in the Palladium’s Sound of Music a few years ago and she was great in that too.

Alex YoungShe is matched by Michael Praed’s Dexter Haven, who looks as American Socialite Sophisticated as you could possibly imagine, and has an incredibly rich depth to his voice that carries off the romantic numbers perfectly. Daniel Boys, who wanted to be Joseph back in 2007, and who has enjoyed loads of theatre parts since, is brilliant as the frustrated writer Mike Connor, with another superb voice and great stage presence. Alex Young, who plays Liz, his colleague who is hopelessly and unrequitedly in love with Mike, gives a terrific all-round performance of musical comedy; and she’s rather cute too. It must be very difficult to take such a well-known song as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and make it sound fresh and new, but Mr Boys and Miss Young did a brilliant job.

Teddy KempnerAlways delighted to see another of my favourite performers, the larger than life Teddy Kempner, this time embracing the role of Uncle Willie, chasing after Liz in a really funny but never grotesque way, and giving his all in “She’s Got That Thing” like a man half his age (and size). I’ve always enjoyed Mr Kempner’s performances ever since I saw him as Snoopy thirty years ago.

Keiron CrookI also very much liked Keiron Crook as Tracy’s appalling fiancé George Kittredge, all bluster and control freak, conveying a character with a complete lack of sense of humour to great comic effect. Marilyn Cutts and Craig Pinder, as Tracy’s parents, give great support and seventeen year old Katie Lee as Dinah, with a performance of considerable confidence and expertise, is obviously going to be a star of the future. The chorus of attendants, maids, waiters and so on were terrific, and gave a performance as good as any that you’d see in the West End.

Katie LeeThere were a few tiny problems with the set on its first night in Northampton – there was a too-long pause between the end of the final scene and the curtain call which I’m guessing was because they were struggling to fix the staircase in position; when the curtain finally opened a stagehand was still fiddling with it and rushed off in something of despair. As a result, the staircase wasn’t properly secured, and the final dance sequence that takes place on it caused it to sway perilously from side to side. We had our hands over our mouths fearing some health and safety catastrophe – which fortunately didn’t happen! Well done to the cast for keeping going. I also wondered if there should have been some other mechanism to prevent us seeing cast members walk off stage once they had left the main acting area; they leave the set through the back doors, but then you see them traipse off in either direction. It didn’t look right; but perhaps this isn’t an issue at other theatres.

But that’s not even a miniscule quibble. It’s a super production, very much appreciated by the full audience, ticking all the lively and colourful boxes, full of feelgoodness, and certainly recommended. It’s touring until July throughout the country – go and see it!