THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF MUSICAL at the Noël Coward Theatre
“Showstoppers, foot-tappers and ballads are seasoned with lyrics that, although overall are delightfully clever and witty, should also come with allergy warnings”
The Great British Bake Off has risen to heights of success from its humble beginnings. An idea inspired by country fete baking competitions. The stakes were never going to be high; consequently, the proposal was rejected by all the major broadcasters for years. So, hats off to Anna Beattie, co-founder of ‘Love Productions’ for persevering. By 2020, the eleventh series received the largest audience for a TV series ever seen on Channel Four in thirty-five years. With such a fan base, the spin off, “The Great British Bake Off Musical”, can be generously served up in the West End with pre-cooked taste appeal.
As with all reality TV, the appeal is the human element. It is the personalities and their sometimes interlocking stories that we tune in for. Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, the team behind the book, music and lyrics, have taken this premise as the main ingredient for their musical. A baker’s dozen characters mingle in the festooned marquee, held together by a tenuous and treacly love story. A marble cake’s mix of light and dark sponge. Pure indulgence, and escapism.
What ends up on our plates has the feel of a recipe-book revue, or song cycle. Showstoppers, foot-tappers and ballads are seasoned with lyrics that, although overall are delightfully clever and witty, should also come with allergy warnings. There is no doubt, however, that the musical numbers are a treat. There are no unfamiliar flavours, but they showcase the vast array of vocal talent on stage, most of whom have their own big solo.
Presiding over the proceedings are the presenters Jim (Scott Paige) and Kim (Zoe Birkett), with judges Phil and Pam: John Owen-Jones as a thinly disguised Paul Hollywood while Haydn Gwynne, as Pam, is a sassy mix of Mary Berry and Prue Leith. The contestants plough through the rounds of the competition, dishing up their back stories, establishing allies and rivals, voicing dreams and venting insecurities. Whether through song or dialogue they are pushed for time, so the scenarios and revelations are underdone, and half baked. Syrian student Hassan (Aharon Rayner) and Italian fashionista Francesca (Cat Sandison) bond over a shared feeling of not fitting in. Izzy (Grace Mouat) is ‘in it to win it’ until she gives way under the sheer weight of platitudes in the script. Claire Moore, however, is delightfully saucy as Babs the hungry (and not just for cake) granny, eliciting cheers from the crowd with her stand out number, ‘Bab’s Lament’. Moore is the leader of the double entendre – no mean feat as the whole company is grappling for a piece of the pie. At times ‘Carry On Baking’ threatens to usurp the show’s title.
Die-hard fans of the television series are well catered for, with mini-dramas pinched from the series to fill the gaps in a story as thin as spun sugar. Sliced fingers, melted ice cream and slapping strudels. And speculation about off camera romance; recreated here in the form of widow Ben (Damian Humbley) blending with self-effacing Gemma (Charlotte Wakefield) from Blackpool. A predictable path to a cloying conclusion, yet we are charmed by Wakefield’s winning presence, shedding Gemma’s humility to rise triumphant in her solo numbers.
It’s all in the presentation. It’s the icing on the cake that matters. “The Great British Bake Off Musical” is a ready-made recipe for success. The converted will guarantee that. And why not? Ultimately the force, commitment and musicality of the performers prevent it from sinking in the middle.
Reviewed on 6th March 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Manuel Harlan
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Hedda Gabler | ★★★★★ | Reading Rep Theatre | February 2023
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