Regular readers of the Whingers’ comments sections may have noticed Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch complaint that “I pay you to WHINGE, not CRAWL.”
Perhaps this will at least, in part, justify the regular charitable direct debit paid into the Whingers’ joint bank account (Andrew to Phil – what bank account? Do we have a bank account?). But, Sir Andrew, before you withdraw your generous remunerations entirely, you should know that what follows is a perfectly balanced combination of both the W word and the C word.
Do you remember how the Whingers used to moan about the Menier Chocolate Factory‘s unreserved seating policy? After putting that right it seems churlish to complain about their online booking system.
But of course we will. Sweet Charity (book by Neil Simon; music by Cy Coleman; lyrics by Dorothy Fields) happens to Andrew’s favourite movie musical, and it’s pretty high up on Phil’s list too so the Whingers were in high spirits when they entered the auditorium on Sunday afternoon for the second preview.
But cheer gave way to despair when they realised that their seats in Row A to the extreme right hand side of the auditorium offered an extremely oblique view of the stage. Andrew had booked online as soon as the booking for Charity had opened and it was galling to see people who had booked weeks after the Whingers sitting in prime seats with great views of the stage. For a moment they even contemplated the benefits of unallocated seating.
Phil was spiralling into a massive grump but perked up considerably the moment the orchestra struck up for the overture. None of your radical four upright pianos reinvention here but a 10 piece band and even from their rubbish seats the sound was gloriously rich and brassy (which seems as good a place as any to complement Gareth Owen on the sound design – perfectly balanced and we could hear every word).
Even the opening scene in Central Park where Charity (Tamzin Outhwaite) is unceremoniously dumped by Man No 1, her boyfriend Charlie (Mark Umbers) thankfully didn’t feature one of Phil’s theatrical bêtes noirs a park bench as it so easily could have. But it did feature his other theatrical no-go-area: balloons.
Nonetheless Phil was still staying with the show and optimistic.
But then came the iconic and beautifully staged and choreographed (by Stephen Mear) “Big Spender” number which really needed to be seen from the front and the problems (for Phil) really started. Phil kept looking around: what was the noise distracting him? Not only was the view terrible but he was distracted by the cast who were dashing around back stage changing behind a curtain within a few feet of the Whingers.
While Phil could appreciate what was clearly a tip top production, he just couldn’t enjoy it. Even Andrew (who was loving it all) had to admit that he couldn’t see how Charity was getting laughs from her antics in the wardrobe due to the fact that he couldn’t see her at all. Nor could they see Charity in the closing scene of Act 1 where she and the claustrophobic Oscar (Umbers again) get trapped in the elevator.
By the interval the beautifully executed “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” was running though Phil’s head but for all the wrong reasons and his first action during the interval was to forbid Andrew from ever using the Menier’s online booking system again.
But an angel in the form of Webcowgirl intervened: one of her party was forced to make an interval departure and she offered it to the Whingers. Andrew insisted that Phil take the vacant prime seat, an act of, well rather sweet charity, but one whichAndrew has milked non-stop since (although in actual fact he was just pleased to be shot of Phil and his moaning).
But do you know what: the second act was a different show for Phil and in his new position he found himself un-distracted by noises off, able to see everything and proceeded to enjoy the show utterly (apart from the director chatting to another creative a seat away). For the rest of the afternoon it was all plain sailing.
Although Outhwaite may lack some of the traditional vulnerability of Charity, she is utterly charming and unlike some leading ladies we’re too polite to mention, she really can sing and dance. She is also very convincing with her chewing gum. Umbers is excellent in his multiple roles (he also plays the film star Vittorio Vidal) and - in a role that could go horribly wrong – he is outstanding as the bumbling Oscar. Support comes from all directions, not least in the form of the ever reliable Josefina Gabrielle as Nickie and Ursula.
But a big thumbs up to the entire ensemble who are forever rushing on, doing a big dance number before rushing off for another quick change. Style-wise, it’s an impeccable production which nails the late sixties aesthetic perfectly: Matthew Wright‘s costumes are exquisite and the wigs (Richard Mawbey of course) are exquisite.
And the songs are delivered with great panache: Herman’s (Jack Edwards) “I Love To Cry At Weddings” is a triumph and brilliantly staged by director Matthew White. So is “Rhythm Of Life” and even the slightly naff “I’m A Brass Band” doesn’t seem so bad.
- Give Ursula a blonde wig; she looks too much like Nickie at the moment.
- We can see why you might want to get away from the iconic switch (right) employed to such effect in the film’s Pompeii Club dance scene. Ebony Molina‘s Tina Turner wig is great and she dances wonderfully but think of all that fabulous switch-swishing you could do with the right wig.
- La Cage Aux Folles finishes in January. I’m sure the Cagelles could be very usefully employed in the “Big Spender” number.
- Sort out the online booking system.
And then, really, everything will be wonderful. Go see it. From a good seat.
Of course, the best thing about the Menier is that you can hang out in the bar afterwards and watch the cast rushing off home. The Whingers and entourage sat there until the barmaid explained that everyone else had gone home and she would quite like to lock up please.
But not before the Whingers had been collared by Tamzin Outhwaite (left) who insisted on having her photograph with the Whingers while teasing that she didn’t know who or what the West End Whingers were.
Then it was the turn of Mark Umbers (right) who insisted on standing on a box to make himself look taller than the Whingers. We wish it to be known that Andrew and Phil are actually 6ft 3in in their stockinged feet and Mister Umbers is only 5ft 4in.
It was lovely too that New York press agent Adrian Bryan-Brown of Beoneau/Bryan-Brown came over to introduce himself. The Whingers tried to entice him to stay for a drink and a gossip but he may have sensed that he would have had a lot of catching up to do in the drinking department and he made his excuses.
And amazingly David Babani also came up and introduced himself. Andrew took the opportunity to suggest that the Menier revive Kander and Ebb’s 70 Girls 70 but his non-committal response seemed to suggest that he didn’t really do requests.