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The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, by Tony Newley and Leslie Bricusse

Friday, 10 June, 2011

The Finborough revives a sixties musical (On now and running through June 2011)

Sir and Cocky - umbilically linked

This oddly surreal musical would (I suspect) have been viewed as something rather more serious had it originated in France or somewhere on the continent.

As it is, Tony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, searching for a repeat of their hit musical ‘Stop the World, I Want to Get Off’ perhaps put a little too much self-awareness into their script, and the show became categorised as a child of the sixties, rather than being respected for the deeper and more elemental themes that are always being flirted with.

What they did do though, was to pen some great songs. The original Broadway production was to a large extent sustained by Tony Bennett’s version of “Who can I turn to?” and there are many more great numbers here.

The plot revolves around two characters, Sir and Cocky. Sir is streetwise, knowing, cynically creating and recreating a game which only he can win. But he is umbilically linked to Cocky, a young man straining at the leash of life, aware that there is something more than the game, or perhaps another set of rules that would allow him to flourish; yet he is unable to escape and fulfil his dreams. It’s a kind of music hall version of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, with additional hints of Laurel and Hardy, if such a thing could be imagined.

The set here (by designer Tim Goodchild) suggests a circus  (perhaps the game is also a performance?) and is a small object lesson in using a confined space, especially since the play must share its arena with Ross Leadbetter, whose keyboard playing provides most of the musical accompaniment. Director Ian Judge (next assignment: Romeo et Juliette at Los Angeles Opera) provides a pacy performance with lots of interest.

As backdrop to the main action, there is a chorus of dancers and singers – the urchins – who are the real stars of the production and give it its charm, offsetting the casual brutality of the main plot. The six, dressed in semi-pierrot overalls and with white mouse faces and black hats, consistently and cheekily undermine any serious pretence on the part of the principals and add considerable depth and presence to some of the big numbers.

The oddity of the production comes from its theme. The game instigated by Sir and in which Cocky will almost perpetually lose, represents little more than consistent and uncomfortable bullying. Transpose the image to life, and the world becomes a very unforgiving place in which the little people are condemned to suffer under the eyes perhaps of relentlessly cruel gods. Maybe that is to over-analyse, but I hope you will see what I mean about the elemental themes.

The big numbers though, point in a different direction and this production would be worth seeing if only for Terry Doe’s rendition of ‘Feeling Good’. Cocky (Matthew Ashforde) takes his big moments well, particularly in ‘My First Love Song’ with The Girl (Louisa Maxwell).

No one does musicals in small theatres better than the Finborough though, and it would be a surprise if this one didn’t have you singing on your way home.

Cast: Sir – Oliver Beamish; Cocky – Matthew Ashforde; The Kid – Lucy Watts; The Girl – Louisa Maxwell; The Negro – Terry Doe; The Bully – Tahir Ozkan; The Urchins – Jennifer Done, Beth Morrissey, Elizabeth Rowden, Tanya Shields, Charlotte Silver, Hannah Wilding

Director – Ian Judge; Designer – Tim Goodchild; Lighting – Mark Doubleday; Choreography – Tim Jackson; Musical Director – Ross Leadbetter; Associate Musical Director – Magnus Gilljam; Sound – Jonathan Brain

reviewed 9 June 2011

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

(c) Michael Spring 2011

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