“this is a night of great music, played loud, and more clever physical dexterity than you can shake a stick at”
You could argue that not enough is made of the slough of oddness into which university leavers find themselves plunged on graduation. Returning, in many cases, to parental homes and familiar faces who have both not changed and changed very, very much is bound to be unsettling. First world problem it may be (and that does make it a little hard to feel too sorry for Murder on the Dancefloor’s main characters), but certainly one that invokes some flux, and it’s this that this production makes a focus – with a sinister outcome.
We meet the graduates back in their home city, convening around pub quiz machines to swap notes on jobhunting. Ollie Norton-Smith’s script rattles along at such a quickfire pace that it’s sometimes hard to keep up, and occasionally, as the plot unfolds, important twists and turns can be easily missed. The thrust is clear, though; Sabrina, played with great vigour by Phoebe Campbell, is all at sea, back at home in dead-end jobs and living with her hated brother and lecturing dad (Tullio Campanale, who is a quiet hero of the piece here, turning his hand to his two roles with alacrity). Just how lost these post-uni souls are is clear; on noting that it’s sad not to know what happens next, Sabrina tells her friend that it’s a job, a home, a future. ‘But that’s on us’, Bonnie (Francesa Thompson) reflects mournfully.
The choreography of this piece is extraordinary, especially in the tight space of the Pleasance and with audiences wrapped around on three sides – although more could be done to keep sightlines clear for folks sat at left and right. The cast’s running, dancing, flowing around the stage is positively mercurial; props to Zak Nemorin’s dance choreography. The physicality is commendable, and surely absolutely exhausting, but it risks becoming repetitive and the snappy run time here feels right, if nudging towards overlong for what turns out to be a slightly flimsy plot.
Murder on the Dancefloor is billed as a black comedy, and there is the odd laugh, but that doesn’t feel like it quite cuts it as a description. The script isn’t quite funny enough to call this a true comic piece, and lacks the emotional depth to make for truly powerful physical theatre. It’s a shame this falls between two stalls, as there’s much to recommend the night. All the acting and movement on display is impressive, with some clever moments of direction from Ollie Norton-Smith; a scene where Sabrina reminisces over an old photo album is especially neat. And the soundtrack is such a presence as to feel like it’s another character on stage; a Spotify playlist must surely follow.
This is a cast brimming with talent, executing some really notable choreography. Ultimately, their performances are undermined by a flawed narrative, with the closing plot twist so damn silly as to make a bit of a mockery of any moments of emotional heft that preceded it. That said: this is a night of great music, played loud, and more clever physical dexterity than you can shake a stick at. And there’s a lot to be said for that.
“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.