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Bugsy Malone – Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

September 16, 2015

Or: “What I did during the holidays, part 1.”

Seen at the afternoon performance on 1st August 2015.

I’ve never watched the complete Alan Parker film. Sure, I’ve seen a few clips (probably due to an early crush on Jodie Foster) and watched enviously as the school class below mine was taken to the early 80s lavish Her Majesty’s Theatre stage version. Did they see a young Sheridan Smith? Who knows. Anyway, when the chance to see a new “live” version happened, I jumped at it.

Having leapt the first hurdle – the theatre hate single people, (don’t like them buying good seats when only a pair are left – a word with the box office begrudgingly sorted that one); and the second hurdle of chewing gum on the back of my seat (removed by a house manager who implied I was making a big fuss, and who didn’t clean the seat properly after removing it; thank goodness I carry sterilising liquid with me – my acid remark about ‘walking the house’ deserved, I think) I settled down to watch…

…. and quickly found that his was quite the most expensive school play I’ve ever paid to see.

A simple but highly effective set of a backstage area, with the usual iron staircase to the ‘stage door,’ supplemented by various rolling screens and props to give other locations, worked well. Nicely lit too, and the costumes were a triumph. Kudos to Jon Bausor, James Farncombe and Susanna Peretz.

The opening moments were pretty great as well, Asanda Jezile’s Tallulah promised much with a confident narration.

Sadly, it all unravelled for me from there. Ben Harrison’s sound design ensured that those on the 8th row near the side stage speaker couldn’t hear a word being sung over the orchestra.

Luckily, the plot is practically invisible, so that it didn’t matter much. Being able to follow the story using the lyrics would have been good, but as the thin material stretched even thinner with elongated dance and ancient panto-style “tell a joke down the line” sections to try and pad out a second act, it may have been for the best.

Flashes of inspiration – a well choreographed “So You Wanna Be A Boxer,” and the nicely ironic movement as kids fell victim to the dreaded (though not exactly spectacular) “splurge” gun were far outweighed by the crass decisions. These included a dull “love the very little guy” moment “Tomorrow;” and a particularly dated, cringe-worthy, “make ’em stand for us” ending. If I wish to give a standing ovation, I will, otherwise, I’ll sit, thanks. And on that subject, I expect to see the stage while seated until the end, as I paid for, not have to move into the aisle so I was not blocked by the person standing in front (still, it gave me a chance to put my coat on and beat the crowds to the exit).

Much of the dance seemed to lack energy, which I accepted as I thought that those involved were very young. Turned out, the ensemble were actually drama school graduates. Another disappointment. They may have been told to dance slowly and as children would, but if so, not the greatest directorial decision, perhaps.

Among the youngsters, Zoe Brough showed her stage experience with a Blousey Brown rather outshining Sasha Gray’s Bugsy Malone. Her timing was noticeably sharper than his, though he succeeded by the end in convincing me that this was a little operator who cared.

It was noticeable too that Jenson Steele’s Fat Sam drew few laughs. Probably the audience couldn’t hear him, but the speed he was required to deliver comedy at didn’t help. A running “knuckles” joke also fell flat, even with the younger male audience who usually go for that kind of physical humour.

A slew of dodgy accents, the slowness of the whole show’s pacing and the fact West End prices were charged (premium seats, even!) for a show far below the standards of juvenile-led shows there, and this is one not very satisfied customer.

There’s a reason the show failed first time in the West End. It lacks the emotional depth of “Oliver,” the drama of “Annie,” the wit of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and the delightfully tuneful scores of all of these. This production proves that “Bugsy Malone” has flaws in script, and so many variables among a very young cast that no amount of fine physical staging can raise it beyond school show staple.

The Lyric is a pleasant auditorium, many of the front of house staff cheerful, but the ticket was expensive, and I won’t hurry back due to the rude management. Not the best start to the break, but there was still another fringe visit to come…

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