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:
Lock & Key
Reviewed – 15th March
“Contemporary and relevant, this is a modern day musical that I’m sure many can identify with”
It is past 10 o’clock at night, in a cramped office that used to be a stationery cupboard, and on her birthday of all days, Jess (Evelyn Hoskins) is staying late under the instructions of her nightmare boss, Samantha (Tiffany Graves). All Jess wants is to do something creative, something that matters. “Turns out so does everyone,” she has realised. However when her boss leaves her a set of keys to finish off some proofs, there is one key Samantha tells her not to touch. When Jess chooses to ignore this, she discovers something far more gruesome than she could ever have anticipated.
This is a relatable and sympathetic narrative that takes a sinister turn, and it is a clear and damning comment on the sacrifices that we are expected to make in order to succeed in these cut-throat industries. Contemporary and relevant, this is a modern day musical that I’m sure many can identify with, whatever step of the ladder they are on.
Alice Simonato has designed the small space adeptly, and the set, costumes and lighting are well linked by the ominously recurring red of the filing cabinet. Hoskins and Graves are equally strong and compliment each other wonderfully, vocally and in terms of their performances. Both are consistently believable and Hoskins in particular has a fantastically natural tone to her voice which works brilliantly with the at times Sondheim-esque score. Bella Barlow (composer) transitions easily from sing/speak into more traditional song structures and A. C. Smith’s lyrics are well served within this framework. The music and the musicians themselves are impressive, though could have benefitted from being in a larger space, as the percussion in particular felt overly heavy and unnecessarily dominating at times.
The characters suffer from a lack of development and nuance. Whilst Jess’ story is a relatable one, it remains predominantly one note, so it became hard to maintain a connection with her. For this reason, and also because the ending feels overly sudden, the emotional impact of Jess’ final choice is barely felt by the audience. Though we see a momentary softness in Samantha’s character when we realise she is the carer for her ailing mother, the change between these two sides of her is so dramatic that it seems inconsistent and unbelievable, and therefore, again, had little emotional effect. A more subtle and complex approach to writing this other side of her characterisation could easily have remedied this, as I think the problem lies in the writing rather than its execution. The hallucinated ‘Giggles the Bear’ character feels confused and out of place, and unfortunately I think the piece needs to be in a larger space and to be longer and further developed in terms narrative complexity in order for it to realise its full potential.
‘Lock and Key’ presents a relevant and potentially excitingly sinister narrative, with strong performances and a fantastic score. However the piece in its current form is in serious need of development, from both a narrative and character perspective.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Nick Brittain
Lock & Key
Vaults Theatre until 18th March