Thursday, 9 August 2018

REVIEW: Me and My Girl at the Chichester Festival Theatre

We were fortunate to see the 1985 version of Me and My girl with Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson at Adelphi theatre in London with Stephen Fry's new book to Noel Gay music which added his 1937 hit "Leaning on the lamppost" to the second act. It was a joyous fun award winning show that lived long in the memory as a result of Lindsay's delightful cockney charm and musical comedy abilities. It was therefore with some high expectations that we returned to the show in Chichester over thirty years later.

Director Daniel Evans, choreographer Alistair David and designer Lez Brotherston who had previously all staged Fiddler in the roof at Chichester return to stage this production on the thrust stage at the Festival theatre . Although this had worked in recent revivals of Gypsy and Half a Sixpence , this production felt shoe horned onto the thrust with a third of the audience side on. As a result there were some wonderfully conceived back wall sets of the house in the country exterior and interiors and a rather uninteresting black tab and projections for the London scenes. It also required actors to regularly enter from the auditorium vomitories and this constrained our view from the side on seats . There is no additional writing credit but this production seemed littered with weak jokes and puns in the tradition of British music hall from which the Gay's melodies were first written. "Aperitif ? No I have got my own". This music hall heritage seems to be the motivation for casting Matt Lucas in the central character of Bill Snibson, the cockney lad who finds to his surprise that he is the sole heir to the title of Lord Hareford if he can pass a fit and proper test. 

Lucas is a likeable chap with a strong reputation for oddball modern comedy who recently very effectively played the landlord in Les Miserables and an assistant in Dr Who , yet he is not a musical hoofer like Lindsay nor has his twinkly London charm. He is at his best in the comedy business with Jacqueline (Siubhan Harrison) in the bath and with Sally (Alex Young) getting caught up in his Lord's 'vermin' cloak or having fun with multiple comic accents. There is a nice running gag with the pocket watch. He never convinces us that he is in love with Sally and the chemistry between them, aside from the comedy, is weak. However there is a nice innocent charm about their rendition together of the title song "Me and my girl". Young shows what she is capable of in an emotion packed "Once you lose your heart".

Caroline Quentin plays Maria, the Duchess of Dene, totally looks the part and is excellent especially in "The Lambeth walk " and her scenes with Clive Rowe's Sir John Tremayne . Together they are the 'executors' of the will and judges of the fit and proper test and there have a lovely chemistry between them . If anything Rowe is underused in the production and he is particularly good "Love makes the world go around". 

The orchestration by Besterman and Cumberland seeks to refresh the Gay music with snatches of other tunes but the end result seems to make it all sound more dated and overextend what should be the show stopping routines of "The sun has got his hat on" and "Leaning on the lamppost" . The latter includes a rather laboured ballet sequence with multiple Sallys which covers the fact the Lucas's is not a trained dancer.

The opening night reviews were all about the understudy for the role of Bill, Ryan Pidgen (who we saw in the minor role of Bob Barking) and we were left wishing we had seen him too as this night did not live up to our high expectations.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seats side stalls Row J | Price £40
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