Saturday, 3 November 2012

Victor/Victoria - Southwark Playhouse - Friday 2 November ****

Our last visit to the womb like arches beneath London Bridge station that have been the scene of many a blissful evening and what a way to end a beautiful relationship with probably the gayest example of the gayest art form known to man. It really is a joy that someone had the bright idea to create “Musical Theatre” as a gift for women and gay men. Oh I know some straight men claim to enjoy a show in much the same way as some gay men claim to like sport (going to the gym to sculpt your body so you look hot when you take your shirt off in Fire does not count as sport), but we all know that in their heart of hearts men of the heterosexual persuasion would much rather be down the pub with a pint and Sky Sports on a 50 inch screen than sitting through the second act of Singin In The Rain with their wife or girlfriend.

Anyway back to Blake Edwards, Henry Mancini, Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn’s stage version of the hit 1982 filim.

Anna Francolini’s English soprano Victoria Grant finds herself destitute in 1930’s Paris when she bumps into Richard Dempsey’s gay nightclub singer Caroll “Toddy” Todd who has the bright idea of transforming her into Count Victor Grazinski, a Polish female impersonator. The Count becomes the toast of Paris  and is wooed by Chicago hoodlum King Marchand, Matthew Cutts adding some well needed testosterone to the proceedings, causing him to question his own attitude to sexuality and dumping his girlfriend along the way.

Francolini’s Victoria, Leslie Caron in a tux, smoking jacket or feathers, is an endlessly troubled soul, worrying her way through the moments when she is not performing in cabaret, with only the gentle soul of Richard Dempsey’s Toddy for support. These two make for an immensely likeable leading pair and both sell a song with sweet sounding ease. With able support from Matthew Cutts’ King and Mark Curry, a silver fox with a twinkle in his eye, as nightclub owner Andre Cassell the cast are the best thing about this show.

The songs, despite the composers’ pedigrees, are a problem. Apart from “Le Jazz Hot!”, they are instantly forgettable. The book too is as thin as the paper it is written on. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast. I laughed at every corny joke, of which there are many, and applauded every single number such is the standard of the performances on show, but there really are only so many times you can use “queen” as a double entendre in one evening and expect to get away with it. I easily embrace the suspension of disbelief but the almost childlike resolution of any problem and the easy acceptance of the protagonists’ seemingly amorphous sexuality would be a difficult proposition in any age. Director Thom Sutherland and choreographer Lee Proud do incredible work with the staging and dance routines, but much like the Union’s production of Wildhorn’s Jekyll and Hyde earlier in the year, this is a five star production of a three star show.

Despite all those reservations, as a two hour slice of pure entertainment on a cold winter’s night, this would be hard to beat.

Finally I really have to highlight the contributions of actress Jean Perkins, who plays innumerable small roles and provides delightful pre and mid performance entertainment with humour and poise, what a wonderful example to the younger members of the company.

Booking until 15 December 2012, the perfect antidote to the winter blues - Victor/Victoria

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