The Boy Friend
Menier Chocolate Factory
Reviewed – 4th December 2019
“The pleasure of this joyous revival stems in no small part from its truly gorgeous visual impact”
Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, The Boy Friend was an instant hit on the London stage when it premiered in 1953. It is an affectionate, sun-drenched, period pastiche, and terribly terribly English. The book follows a tried and tested romantic comedy formula: runaway rich boy meets rich girl pretending not to be, they fall in love, overcome a tiny obstacle, and end up in one another’s arms. There is an older comedy couple – man with a roving eye and battleaxe wife – who overcome their differences and fall in love a second time; an older romantic couple, whose love, too, is rekindled, and three satellite young girls, all of whom wind up with their beaux at the show’s close. So far so hackneyed. But you don’t come to The Boy Friend for the plot.
The pleasure of this joyous revival stems in no small part from its truly gorgeous visual impact. Paul Farnsworth’s set is a delicate filigree, bringing to mind bandstands and the balmy air of long summer evenings. Paul Anderson’s stunning lighting design complements each setting and mood perfectly, with a beautiful, bold palette that makes the heart soar. The costumes too are divine, in particular those of the marvellously chic Madame Dubonnet, although the male outfits in the final carnival scene do let the side down a little. The sequins seem somewhat tawdry when set next to the pierrots and Maisie’s whimsical butterfly.
It is very easy to imagine this production on a West End stage, and it seems highly likely that it will transfer, but it was a delight to see it up close in the Menier Chocolate Factory, and to hear it up close too. The orchestra, directed by Simon Beck, was a triumph, and performed Sandy Wilson’s score with the brio and tenderness it deserves. And the dancing… The dancing was out of this world. Sharp, snappy, sexy, infectious, fabulous. Terrific choreography from Bill Deamer and a knockout dance performance from Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson, as Maisie, in particular. This production is well cast, and all the principals shine. Amara Okereke is a perfect Polly – all innocence and charm – and has a radiant soprano which is blissful to listen to; Dylan Mason’s Tony is earnest and gauche, and there is delightful on-stage chemistry between them. Janie Dee brings some star quality to the delicious, flirtatious Madame Dubonnet; Tiffany Graves is full of fun and mischief as Hortense and Adrian Edmonson gives a peerless comic turn as Lord Brockhurst.
There are a few wrinkles in the fabric – Act III loses pace, mainly owing to the superfluous tango routine, and the shrillness of Polly’s three friends is overdone – but, in essence, The Boy Friend falls around you with the caress of a fine silk kimono and you can head off into the cold December night with the warmth of the Riviera in your step.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Manuel Harlan
The Boy Friend
Menier Chocolate Factory until 7th March
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 17th October 2018
“the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters”
A lot has been made of the gender swapping element of Marianne Elliott’s ground breaking production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. By his own admission, Sondheim was initially unsure that he wanted it to happen. His reservations were understandable: all too often you see theatre where the protagonist has been made female and it doesn’t always work. It is to Elliott’s credit that he was persuaded to allow it (such was Sondheim’s faith in her) and the result is a brilliantly up to date reimagining of the work.
It seems that few alterations have been made to George Furth’s book. There are the obvious pronoun substitutions and lyrical changes, yet it is a seamless transformation – it is easy to forget that this version isn’t how it was originally written. Although it is radical, it doesn’t feel it. It feels natural and poignantly relevant, which is the ultimate compliment. Leave any preconceptions and debate at the door and just revel in the astonishing gorgeousness of this production.
In the absence of any real plot it relies on the sharp dialogue and characterisation and, of course, Sondheim’s inimitable score. Each song is a vignette – a stand-alone moment, but wedded to the narrative and given a sparkle of confetti by Bunny Christie’s ingenious ‘Alice in Wonderland’ design.
Rosalie Craig plays Bobbie, the single, independent woman, as a bewildered onlooker; surveying the inexplicable bargaining, bickering, compromises, trade-offs, understandings and misunderstandings of her friends’ marriages. She perfectly treads the path from amused derision through to a longing to be part of this weird world of wedded ‘bliss’. The dichotomy is heightened coming from the perspective of a woman aware of her biological clock ticking away on her thirty-fifth birthday. There is a spellbinding routine where Liam Steel’s choreography has four identically dressed versions of Bobbie appear to her in a dream as spirits of her future self; stuck in a clockwork loop of morose matrimony and motherhood. Craig gives a performance that will surely make her a West End fixture for quite some time.
But she is in good company. It is a show full of star turns. Jonathan Bailey showers the audience with the impossibly quick-fire lyrics of “Getting Married Today” with the lung capacity of a free-diver. George Blagden, Richard Fleeshman and Matthew Seadon-Young, as Bobbie’s three potential boyfriends offer a gloriously fresh take on “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”. Patti Lupone’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” is an unforgettable cry of self-deprecatory discontent. But the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters. Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes as the abstemious argumentative couple in denial, Daisy Maywood and Ashley Campbell as the happily divorced couple, Jennifer Saayeng and Richard Henders as the doped-up, straight-laced couple are all hilarious yet touching (my word count is cautioning me to be self-editing here). The entire piece comes with an immense sense of fun, without losing any of the emotive power. Craig’s solos; “Someone Is Waiting”, “Marry Me a Little” and, of course “Being Alive”, are achingly pure and heartfelt.
The friends that surround Bobbie repeatedly urge her to find somebody who will take care of her. “But who will I take of?” she responds. I think it’s safe to say that the success of this show is well and truly taken care of. I hope nothing is booked into the Gielgud Theatre for the foreseeable future.
Craig’s Bobbie bookends many of the scenes with the simple, singular word ‘Wow’. I left the theatre with the same word resounding in my head. Sondheim’s musical and Elliott’s production is a perfect match.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Gielgud Theatre until 30th March