Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith, review
29th April 2015
No beating about Shepherd’s Bush, this Hammersmith Bugsy Malone is a blast – a triumphant return for the stage version of Alan Parker’s adored 1976 film-musical, which braved ridicule and broke the mould by planting children in the roles of Prohibition-era mobsters, their molls and those caught in the “splurge-gun” cross-fire – conjuring a world in which life’s as throwaway as a lollipop.
Reopening the renovated theatre, director Sean Holmes could have ended up with egg (or should that be custard-pie, the other weapon of choice here?) all over his face.
The mind boggles at the logistical challenges involved in bringing a 35-strong company, aged nine to 22 (with the leads, in general the youngest, performing in repertoire), to the peak of razzmatazz perfection.
Yet that’s what’s happened. Sure, some of the lines are a bit gabbled, a few of the interactions are a touch gauche – but isn’t that part of the charm? Where it counts – American accents, deadpan attitudes, dance-steps and vocal strength – the show delivers the goods with knock-out force.
The production has the vitality of youth but isn’t “youth theatre”; it stands comparison with Matilda et al.
Making a fluid virtue of scenic simplicity, Holmes and designers Jon Bausor and James Farncombe give us a film-noir mood using basic theatrical means: an exposed mass of black brick-wall, a lot of shadow and moody side-lighting, though things brighten up, with a pop-out bar and proscenium-arch light-bulbs, whenever the scene shifts to Fat Sam’s sleazy Speakeasy.
The big gamble is that it’s the children themselves who’ll make it look a million dollars – and, radiating mischief, personality and talent right across the stage and out to us, they sure as hell do.
Trusting the youngsters to carry the whole kit and caboodle – above all the songs (lip-synched in the film) – lends crucial emotional substance to the pastiche style and elegant dressing-up-box fun. The droll-poignant conceit – scrambling the simple dichotomies of youth and age – is writ large in Drew McOnie’s terrific choreography, which combines juvenile exuberance with a drilled professionalism beyond the fledgling stars’ tender years.
Among the stand-outs at the performance I attended were Oliver Emery as diminutive moustachioed villain Dandy Dan, dwarfed by his overcoat, James Okulaja as a larger-than-life Fat Sam and Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Bugsy’s wisecracking, would-be starlet sweetheart Blousey.
But they’re all champs. Small wonder Sir Alan apparently had tears streaming down his cheeks during previews. This is something very special indeed.
First published in the Daily Telegraph, 29 Apr 2015