Monday, 11 June 2012

Theatre review: Merrie England

The Finborough Theatre has a policy of running smaller-scale productions on Sundays and Mondays, on the set of its main Tuesday-Friday show. I've avoided these because once I do something it tends to become habit-forming. But three theatre-free days in a row in my diary had me getting the cold sweats (how I'll cope in August's theatrical wasteland is anyone's guess) so I booked for the current rep show. While the rest of the country's been fussing over the sequel's jubilee, the Finborough have revived Edward German and Basil Hood's long-forgotten Merrie England, featuring the original Queen Elizabeth. German and Hood were hailed at the turn of the 20th century as the natural successors to Gilbert and Sullivan, and fans of that style of operetta should find much to enjoy here.

Alex Sutton's 18-strong cast is in strong voice, with Nichola Jolley as Jill-All-Alone particularly good, although her raggedy costume made me expect her to break into "Memory" at any minute. The acting from the leads is also good, with Daniel Cane and Tom Giles fun as a pair of Shakespearean ac-tors; although some of the chorus of villagers spend the whole time gurning and belming distractingly. With a muddle of a story featuring mismatched lovers and throwing in Elizabeth I, the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh, and Hood's libretto relying on parodies of Shakespearean language that miss more often than they hit, it's not that surprising that Merrie England has languished unperformed since the 1960s. It was never going to convert me to a musical comedy style I've never been a big fan of, but Sutton's production does well with the material it's given.

Merrie England by Edward German and Basil Hood is booking until the 12th of June at the Finborough Theatre (returns only.)

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

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