Tuesday 19 February 2013

Theatre review: Gay's the Word

Occasionally the Finborough Theatre's Sunday-Tuesday shows get a further life, and so it is with Stewart Nicholls' production of Gay's the Word, now taking up residence at the Jermyn Street Theatre (which has replaced the ratty seating with something a bit comfier - although you still have to cross the stage to go to the loo.) Ivor Novello's final show attempts to blend his traditional operetta style with that of the American musicals that were pushing them out of theatres in the 1940s and '50s. And this theme feeds into the storyline, as the fading popularity of old-fashioned musical theatre spells trouble for Gay Daventry (Sophie-Louise Dann,) a stage star for the last 30 years, but now in dire financial straits after investing everything in a massive flop. Her co-star suggests she open her own drama school, but within months that too is struggling to make ends meet, and they may have to rely on some dodgy characters to bail them out.

Gay's the Word does what it says on the tin, a frothy bit of cheesy post-War fun held together by Dann's Gay, rictus-grinning her way through unpleasant phone calls from the bank and the mass walkout of her entire teaching staff. Trying to keep things together is Miss Cheadle (Kirsten Cooke, whose programme bio gamely admits she'll always be known as Michelle of the Résistance from 'Allo 'Allo.)

Helena Blackman and Josh Little acquit themselves well as the inevitable pair of starcrossed lovers although the latter's voice could do with being stronger in his solos. And there's a hefty cast of 19 hoofing around the small stage as a procession of enthusiastic but hopeless young drama students. But the standout moment comes from the school's teachers, four grumpy spinsters (Gaye Brown, Andrea Miller, Eileen Page and Elizabeth Seal) who in the second act opener "Teaching" gleefully recount the grisly deaths of past students they particularly disliked.

This isn't a style of music that really gets my foot tapping or gets stuck in my head but it's all part of a sunny show with the requisite amount of silliness, and a good antidote to a February evening.

Gay's the Word by Ivor Novello and Alan Melville, with book adaptations by Richard Stirling, is booking until the 2nd of March at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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