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Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be

June 18, 2014

Seen at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East at the afternoon performance on 7th June 2014.


Well, to be fair, the Theatre Royal, Stratford East is VERY much how theatregoing used to be. A local audience totally committed to having fun. The actual make-up of the audience that afternoon was an Arts Minister’s worst nightmare – elderly, 99% white… but would probably get off on the grounds they all seemed not to be “upper class toffs” (based only an absence of dinner jackets that I could see).

Continuing the theme, the whole place was decrepit in the way West End theatres were when I started theatregoing 35 years ago. The toilets ponged, and my seat was actually on the ground. No, I mean, the seat had fallen off and was on the floor. Still, the amazingly charming staff cheerfully fixed it both before the show and again at the interval. I also had an incredibly charming email from the House Manager when I raised the matter. They really are doing their best until (hopefully) the National Lottery will help them improve things.

Anyway, so I wasn’t in the best of moods despite looking forward to this for months. A big fan of the original cast CD (surprised, as most folk are) at how rude the original title number was; I was expecting a lot. This show delivered, in spades.

Sensibly, the theatre chose to stage it as a “revisal,” adding “Living Doll,” “Do You Mind” and “Sparrows Can’t Sing” to pad out an otherwise glorious bunch of atmospheric “pre-Oliver” numbers.

Opening with me being propositioned by the gorgeous Vivien Carter (annoyingly, her lawyer now tells me she was only “acting”…) and the entire front stalls being engulfed by assorted Soho street walkers and the local constabulary out to enforce a new law to get them off the street, the show then moves into a “Spieler” (illegal gaming den) for the rest of the evening.

Owners Fred (Mark Arden) and Lil (Jessie Wallace) hark back to the good old days, while Red Hot (Christopher Ryan) is the comic turn as an old-time crook. Gary Kemp and Suzie Chard as old-time Bent Copper who falls for a working girl, plus innocent Sarah Middleton who stumbles into the mess of it all – and luckily stumbles out again – are the most notable of the performances.

Simply, this is a character study musical written years before such things were invented by the Americans with “Company” and “A Chorus Line;” and the result is a delightful reminder that things really have changed… but that the essentials of being British really haven’t. Hopeful, always witty, colourful in every way and with a helping of “let’s do it for ourselves ‘cos nobody else will” grit.

Sheer fun, well done and a really good afternoon out. End of!

  1. Sarah Forrester permalink
    June 18, 2014 9:49 am

    Oh my.. I was at that very same performance sat in Row A ( which I foolishly assumed would be front row as in the seating plan !!) I also loved the show and agree that Sarah Middleton gave an outstanding performance ( and I tweeted her to tell her so !) It would have been so good to meet you !!

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      June 18, 2014 10:08 am

      They did sneak that extra row in, didn’t they!

      Shame I didn’t know. Would have been someone to chat to while the lovely chap put my seat back together LOL.

      • Sarah Forrester permalink
        June 18, 2014 10:32 am

        ha ha ! I did see someone with a screwdriver …. guess that was for you! 🙂

      • Steve Rich permalink*
        June 18, 2014 11:16 am

        Yep, well, I was the bloke standing by the guy with the screwdriver anyway, LOL.

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