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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes


Union Theatre

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Union Theatre

Reviewed – 8th October 2019



“a spectacularly over-the-top production and a monumentally good time”


Whilst originally a Broadway show (based on the novel by Anita Loos) starring Carol Channing, it’s Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s killer pairing in the iconic 1953 film adaptation that’s kept this story live and kicking in the musical canon. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’re sure to be familiar with the glorious fuchsia-scarlet clash in Miss Monroe’s absurdly decadent number, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’. Much like most of Marilyn’s back-catalogue, the play’s plot isn’t quite besides the point, but it’s third to the big showstopper numbers, and whoever has the daunting task of filling her inimitable shoes.

Lorelai (Abigayle Honeywill), a small town girl with a penchant for diamonds, has her eye set on a sugar daddy to provide her a life-time supply of the sparkling little gems. When her deep-pocketed fiancé (Aaron Bannister-Davies) catches wind of her sordid past, she feels certain that he’ll break off their engagement, so she immediately goes in search of a wealthy replacement, with the help of her friend and ‘chaperone’, Dorothy (Eleanor Lakin).

Honeywill is a perfect Marilyn type: white blonde, strikingly beautiful and a small hip wag away from charming most anyone out of their life savings. Presumably, though, she doesn’t want to be accused of merely playing Marylin rather than the character herself, so in an act of defiance she’s taken on this Lina Lamont-type nasal squeal. Whilst it proves comic at times, it’s not sustainable, particularly when singing. Honeywill has a beautiful singing voice and she can’t resist giving it her all, but she ends up sounding schizophrenic, swapping between a bold, sometimes husky tone to an insufferable screech, and back again.

The principals are all perfectly cast. Lakin’s Dorothy is brilliantly mocking and tongue-in-cheek, and Freddie King, playing Henry Spofford, finds an endearing balance between being charmingly artless and just plain charming. The chorus is brimming with triple threats, and it seems they’ve been as carefully cast as the main characters.

With the amazing Sasha Regan once again directing, the production is quite spectacular. With such a small stage, and the accompanying piano (Henry Brennan) and drums taking up a good chunk of it, it seems dangerous to have so many high-kicking, split-leaping, almost gymnastic dance numbers with a cast of eighteen. But choreographer Zak Nemorin seems determined to present the high production value that this show deserves, regardless of whether the drummer gets disturbingly close to getting kicked in the face on several occasions.

Justin Williams has cleverly pared the set right back so at least there are no tables and chairs for the chorus to break their necks on. Instead, a scarlet red carpet runs dramatically down the back wall and all the way to the front, preparing us for the big number we all know and love. Unfortunately, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ falls a little short when the time comes. The lighting (Hector Murray), though otherwise beautiful executed, on this occasion blacks out the red back-drop and simultaneously washes out Lorelei’s pink gown. The song itself is a little quiet and the only occasion during the entire production when I remember thinking the band could do with a couple of muted trumpets. This is the only disappointing number, and really only because the ‘53 version is so vivid.

What with the set not providing much atmosphere, the costumes (Penn O’Gara) certainly make up for it, with gorgeous silhouettes aplenty and fringe for days.

There’s an amazing amount of songs packed in (music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin), and to ensure they’re all covered, the plot in the second half gets a little lost. But as I said, no-one’s here for a gripping twist, or an emotional think piece. We’re here for a spectacularly over-the-top production and a monumentally good time, and ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ delivers in spades.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Mark Senior


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Union Theatre until 26th October


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Around the World in Eighty Days | ★★★ | August 2018
Midnight | ★★★★★ | September 2018
Brass | ★★★★ | November 2018
Striking 12 | ★★★★ | December 2018
An Enemy of the People | ★★ | January 2019
Can-Can! | ★★★★ | February 2019
Othello | ★★★★ | March 2019
Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens | ★★★ | May 2019
Daphne, Tommy, The Colonel And Phil | | July 2019
Showtune | ★★★★ | August 2019


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Salad Days – 3 Stars


Salad Days

Brighton Theatre Royal & Touring

Reviewed – 5th September 2018


“As absurd plots go, Salad Days’ story is hard to beat”


‘In 1954, the Old Vic’s artistic director Denis Carey gave Julian [Slade] and Dorothy [Reynolds] just one month to write a summer show – words, music, everything. They did it.’ So writes Adrian Slade in the programme notes for this production, and it is a helpful introduction – placing us firmly in the period, and providing a clue as to the origins of this utterly bonkers musical confection.

As absurd plots go, Salad Days’ story is hard to beat: a young couple find themselves the guardians of a magical piano which bewitches people into dancing in public; the piano goes missing and a flying saucer appears to help track it down. This is clearly not a musical that takes itself very seriously, and yet the audience requires a level of sincerity in the production, particularly in 2018, to keep the show from becoming a dusty and risible period piece. It is a hard balance to strike, and one which Regan de Wynter’s production – initially at the Union Theatre in London and now at Brighton’s Theatre Royal ahead of a UK tour – generally maintains. For the most part, the show zips along with a great deal of effervescence and charm, and laughs are in plentiful supply. The comedy works best however, when it bubbles up from the pure silliness of the plot, or springs from the deft handling of physical business – special mention here to the marvellous hairdressers scene, expertly played by Wendi Peters. The scenes which rely heavily on running gags are less successful; these are the awkward interludes in which the show’s 64 years weigh heavily.

The songs, although fun, lack the biting wit of Cole Porter or the inventive musicality of Arthur Sullivan, and the choreography is lively but unremarkable. The lighting design is similarly serviceable, and the production design lacks coherence, particularly in terms of period setting – some costumes clearly coming from the fifties, but others from the twenties and thirties. The success of this production is thus almost wholly down to its committed and energetic cast, which had to work doubly hard last night to combat some very obvious technical issues with sound quality. (As a side note, this reviewer is not convinced by the need to mike up performers in a space the size of the Theatre Royal. All the singers are clearly capable of filling the theatre vocally, unaided). Despite these setbacks, the showstoppers shine through, and there are some lovely lyrical moments too. Maeve Byrne lights up the stage with Asphynxia’s fabulous nightclub pastiche ‘Sand in my Eyes’, and Lewis McBean’s warm tenor is a delight throughout. Also noteworthy are the splendid comic characterisation and sparkling vocal quality of Francesca Pim, and the physical precision and geniality that Callum Evans brings to the mute Troppo.

Salad Days is pure nostalgia – theatrical candyfloss if you will – and Brighton’s beautiful regency Theatre Royal provides the perfect setting to jump on the carousel and indulge in a sugary treat.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Scott Rylander



Salad Days

Brighton Theatre Royal until 8th September then touring UK



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