Review – Sweet Charity, Menier Chocolate Factory

Monday 23 November 2009

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.

One or two notes:

  • 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.


19 Responses to “Review – Sweet Charity, Menier Chocolate Factory”

  1. tomlovespatti Says:

    I would be the happiest person in the world if the menier did 70 girls 70 good on Andrew for suggesting it. But who would you cast there all old people!!!

  2. Sue Says:

    I love the (almost) matching scarves in the pictures above.

    Also, I agree that a revival of 70, Girls, 70 would be wonderful.

  3. Eggs Says:

    70, Girls, 70? Whatever next… The Rank, sorry, Rink?

  4. […] November 23rd, 2009. Sweet Charity continues through March 7th, 2010. The Whingers’ review is here. Book now if you want to go.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Review – Money – […]

  5. webcowgirl Says:

    It was a pleasure to hang out with you guys and I’m glad Wechsler’s early departure benefited someone!

  6. Cat Says:

    Re the Menier’s booking policies – more chagrin to add to the pile.

    I tried to book 4 tickets as a Christmas treat for myself, my fiance and my parents, both of whom are OAPs. I was offered fairly central seats, but when I aked for the advertised OAP concession, I was informed the concessionary seats are in a designated area only, so we’ve ended up with A3 – 6! This is the first time I’ve come across such a policy – does anyone know if this is usual practice?

    At the time I thought it would be all right, but having read of your experiences in row A I’m starting to get worried…

  7. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Much better. 6/10.

  8. Geraldine Says:

    I have just tried to book and the Menier online system is the worst I have ever endured.

  9. Chris Says:

    Re Cat’s comments above, I remember for Rookery Nook at the Menier booking online for reduced price tickets, following a link in a promotional email “if you booked that week” or something like that – and they were also on the side. They seem to have a policy of central seats only for full-price-payers whatever the circumstances.

    Greatly looking forward to seeing this in January in seats AA 13-14.

    • Steven Taylor Says:

      I would agree that any discount means a side seat. It happened to me for Talent with the meal Deal. I was miffed that my brother who joined me for the meal deal at last minute but got a seat normally, ended up on the front row centre whilst I looked very peeved from the side. The meal was not that special either. Seems very unfair that you book ahead and get palmed off with worse seats.

  10. Crandal Says:

    My experience with the Menier was odd as well in that they seem to sell to us full price buyers one row at a time from left to right so that it just depends upon when you book where your seats will be . The key seems to be is to ask your 8 friends to book at specific times and then follow their booking and you just might end up in the center.

    as for 70, Girls, 70 – I’d love to see it but the indiginites of the facilites are hard enough for younger or middle aged people can you imagine how a company of seniors would deal with them? That would be an example of the theatre of cruelty….


    The on-line booking system really is one of the worst theatre booking sites in London. I was constantly being offered side seat sonline as soon as booking opened. But there is an alternative method using a device invented by a Scotsman called Alexander Graham Bell….

  12. A Clown Says:

    Someone must have read this as the sightlines were fine last Thursday, even from AA23-24, right in the very corner. So whilst I was a little annoyed at those seats considering how quickly I’d booked the sests, it wasn’t too bad and we could even see into the lift.
    Largely loved the show, Outhwaite was a revelation to me, strong throughout but I couldn’t quite see the need to have Josefina Gabrielle (much as I love her) doubling up, there was 5 other girls who could have played one of her roles.
    And did you notice nearly half the cast had come over from Hello, Dolly! ?

  13. JGoodman Says:

    I can verify Ebony Molina’s hair is most certainly NOT a wig!!! It’s all real!

  14. Mr Bert Says:

    “…thankfully didn’t feature one of Phil’s theatrical bêtes noirs a park bench as it so easily could have.”


  15. Fab production, and brilliant seats in the centre of row AA, but…. for the first time we experienced the misery of the Menier in that our row also contained two enormously fat people. So I had to sit with my left shoulder about 9 inches away from the back rest so the man to my left had somewhere to put his right shoulder; and my wife was scrunched next to the man on her right to the extent that, when I asked her if it was possible to budge up just a tiny bit, she said (and I quote) “any closer and the man on my right will have his nose in my tits”.

    Nevertheless an excellent show. Big Spender was a revelation and Rhythm of Life so engaging when you’re virtually in the cast’s laps.

  16. Crandal Says:

    Our Menier seating nightmare last week was truly shocking. Not only do I beleive that they have added numbers to the benches thus making only the thinnest among us able to sit somewhat comfortably but the staff seem to have figured out that it is a no win situation in terms of heavy set people joining a row so they make themselves invisible or more shockingly as was the case last week, pretend not to hear a customer who was asking what to do even though the customer was 8 inches away from them. It really is repellent of the Menier to keep their audience in such total discomfort.

  17. Stevie Says:

    Went to Theatre Royal Haymarket last night, blissfully ignorant any historical background to the show or cast. That’s’ the way I like it: ’don’t read Hello, tabloids or watch TV. A few minutes into the show and I’m in a state of shock, an over dilution of a wonderful film, my all time fav’. Not Neil Simon’s 60’s rip-offs (Sweet Charity: book, stage, film) but Fellini’s 1957 masterpiece The Nights Of Cabiria [Le notti di Cabiria]. I just don’t understand how this show fails to capture so little of the emotion that’s in the film. I haven’t seen any of Simon’s re-versions but guest they are all as lightweight as currently on offer; if so, shame on you Mr. Simon. I wonder if anyone associated with this production viewed the Fellini film, it does get a mention in the programme that the FOH staff kindly showed me at the interval. Peddling doom and gloom in an upbeat musical might be suicide but there should be a modicum of an emotional rollercoaster through the performance. The FOH staff were all most helpful, especially the ticket box guy recommending a seat since I had no idea how large the theatre is. The loos put many a WE theatre to shame, another hand drier or optional paper towels would get you 5 stars, Phantom over the road take note. Another musical with a weak ending, ‘saw ALW’s LND last week. Perhaps Theatreland needs a creative team that just does endings. Otherwise good light entertainment from an A1 hard working cast, held together by the leading ladies and gentleman; shoot the librettist and director. No tissues required.

  18. JohnnyFox Says:

    There’s a park bench in the Haymarket version.

    It slides on and off at least three times.

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