Review – Jest End, Jermyn Street Theatre

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Jest End (the show formerly known as So Jest End) at the Jermyn Street Theatre is a sort of home-grown version of Forbidden Broadway.

Unlike FB it slipped up slightly by not including a mention of the West End Whingers near the beginning of the show (or, indeed, anywhere else in the show) to butter us up but despite an obvious naivety regarding which side bread is buttered the show offered the Whingers plenty to enjoy.

A Cameron Mackintosh/Oliver! “I’m reviewing old adaptations” went down very well and there was good mileage in a number about leading ladies not being able to manage eight shows a week these days. A Little Shop of Horrors spoof was so well performed that you would be quite happy to see the performers doing the full show (no surprise then that Jodie Jacobs covered and played Audrey in the recent West End revival).

Chris Thatcher does a hilarious Michael Ball impression (which apparently amused Ball himself) and he gets it on the nose with his John Barrowman (“I Am BarrowMan”) and not in a Berlusconi way. The cast (Thatcher, Jacobs, Stuart Matthew-Price, and Laura Brydon are all excellent performers and execute some well-drilled choreography in the tiny space.

Shows like this are always hit and miss which doesn’t really matter because if something isn’t doing it for you there will always be something else along soon. That said, the Whingers felt out of their depth more often than they were expecting. They scratched their heads trying to determine who or what the target of some of the numbers were, but perhaps they’re just not as up on the latest West End gossip as they thought. A Mel C/Blood Brothers send-up went right over their heads (didn’t the reviews say she was brilliant?) and while they’re always happy to see Wicked lampooned (in fact there should be a law insisting on it), this was the one number that outstayed its welcome.

They were also rather bemused at the choreography number, unsure at whom it was aimed and they struggled with the number which identified the Savoy as a theatre fated to host shows with short shelf lives although neither Fiddler, Carousel nor Dreamboats and Petticoats (which is transferring) can hardly be described as flops.

But mostly these moments of confoundment (nothing new to the Whingers) are compensated for by the energetic direction and the skills of the cast. There’s some really top notch singing here, some superb comedy performances and more costume changes than the low budget might suggest. There’s even an Avenue Q puppet especially made by James Arnott.

But the biggest problem at this Sunday matinee was the sound. Sitting piano-side (the left side of the auditorium) quite a lot of the lyrics were drowned by the music. Phil and Andrew thought their hearing aids weren’t tuned in properly but it was noticeable that the audience were laughing much more on the right than the left. Or perhaps the audience on the left were sedated by close proximity to Andrew’s new aftershave Unkempt by CNUT.

After the show the Whingers retired to a local hostelry where they bumped into the man behind it all Mr Garry Lake who – despite Phil’s insistence to the contrary – turned out not to be the son of Diana Dors (he was thinking of Jason Lake). But he did turn out to be appearing as “Pop” in We Will Rock You or – as we now know – simply “Rock You” to those in the business. Phil misheard and instead sprinkled “Rocky” into the evening’s conversations but everyone was very polite and probably put his strange conversational lurches down to his age.

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