Review – Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Union Theatre

Tuesday 31 May 2011

It is no secret that Betty and Bitter* are deeply entrenched in their funny little ways and forthright about their resistance to innovation.
But changes can be subtle, creeping up with a stealth that is sometimes only gradually discernible.

Phil took a while to notice, but now happily admits, that he’s getting more like his mother with each passing year. Even Andrew, who has never met her, observes this maternal Invasion of the Body Snatchers with an unhealthily forensic interest.

Accepting changes can be wearisome. Phil has been forced to accommodate so many over his manifold years: the farthing going out of circulation, William Hartnell stepping down as Doctor Who, the Look at Life features disappearing from the pictures, Valerie Singleton leaving Blue Peter, the end of the Cadbury’s Aztec bar, Fab lollies dropping the jelly filling, the decline of loose-leaf tea and putting up with a generation who never learnt to warm the pot.

So it was almost impossible for the Whingers not to join in with Lionel Bart’s catchy titular ditty Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be as it could have been written with them in mind.

If you don’t leave FAWTUTB humming the only really insistent tune in it there really must be something wrong with you. That’s not to say the other tunes aren’t decent enough it’s just they have so much to live up to.

Don’t come to the Union Theatre expecting much in the way of plot because it’s basically just an excuse for a big old Cockney Russell Harty. Do come expecting a rag bag of east end characters, tarts with hearts parading round in their Alan Whickers, spivs and bent pork chops all played with tremendous panache by one of the most brilliant ensembles we’ve witnessed at the Union Theatre, or indeed anywhere on the fringe. And one of the largest – 20 of them.

Such is the quality, that singling anyone out seems rather unfair but the central characters Lil and Fred, played by Hanna-Jane Fox and Neil McCaul are quite Anchor spreadable. Then there’s Richard Foster-King, an omi-palone, Polari-spouting interior designer looking like the love child of Cardew Robinson and Julian Orchard as if delivered by midwives Jules and Sandy. His two numbers “Contempery” (sic) and “Polka Dots” which book-end the interval are terrifically choreographed by Nick Winston making the show worth a visit alone.

Foster-King’s hyperactive, hilarious, but-we-really-should-be-offended performance and bona set of pots gives him an instant pass into the potentially career-damaging Whingers’ Fabe Club. We predict great things for him. Fantabulosa.

Fings really is astonishingly well done so congratulations to Mr Phil Willmott on putting it all together. We must pay tribute to the musical inventiveness of  MD Mr Barney Ashworth and the atmospheric lighting of Mr Jason Meininger not only because they would scold us otherwise, but because they are also very good.

Yes, fings definitely aren’t what the used to be. Did we mention the loss of the Zoom lolly, Adam Adamant Lives!, cereal packets with masks to cut out on the back, white dog four by two, Four Feather Falls, Mister Softee, Look In, Timothy Whites, Jack the Rippers from Mac Fisheries……

* Andrew = Betty Blue
Phil = bitter pill

But some changes can be for the better. And they complain about Rastamouse…


Rating score 4-5 full-bodied

7 Responses to “Review – Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Union Theatre”

  1. Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

    That Adam Adamant clip is fantastic. I remember as a kid being fascinated by Gerald Harper’s acting style in this and Hadleigh. Invariably he would find a moment in a scene where he could walk towards the camera and deliver a speech towards it while actually supposedly talking to someone five feet behind him. And most times while sipping from a champagne flute. He really was the Anthony Newley of TV thesps.

  2. David Hughes Says:

    Blimey – I’ve just been transported back 50 years to when I was a Frank Norman devotee. He was the edgiest writer I’d encountered until then, with his cockney spelling and his tales of old Soho – a place I and a pal, as 17-year-old school boys, wandered round wide-eyed after our frequent Wednesday afternoon trips to the Academy cinema in Oxford Street or Mayfair’s Curzon, deluding ourselves with arty films like Last Year in Marienbad and Black Orpheus (actually they were both very good). But ‘Fings’ at the Garrick (May 20, 1961 as it anally states on my programme) was a major milestone on my road to the love of theatre. For a start – look at the cast, none of whom meant anything to me at the time – Miriam Karlin, Victor Spinetti, Wallas Eaton, Bryan Pringle, Yootha Joyce, George Sewell and of course, the sexiest two prostitutes you ever saw, Toni Palmer and Barbara Windsor. Whereas I emerged from ‘West Side Story’ at Her Majesty’s wanting to jump over all the fire hydrants, after Fings I just wanted to live in St. Anne’s Court! Amazing. If the Union is full-bodied, there is no phrase to describe the original – Joan Littlewood’s first and finest hour.

  3. Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

    You’ve got me going now:

  4. Chris Voisey Says:

    Are you insane? Richard Foster-King is giving a performance of such vile amateurishness I wanted to hit the sod with a stick til he stopped twitching

  5. Lupo Says:

    Richard Foster-King’s Ichabod Crane’esque orifice maximising ‘Contemporary’ was perfectly judged and brought the house down on both the evenings that I caught the show. Long may he carry on twitching. PS Whingers, you are back on track…

  6. JohnnyFox Says:

    Anchor spreadable? Help me out, I’d hate to miss a subtle reference to onanism …

  7. THANKYOU for reminding me of the title of Four Feather Falls – which I have struggled to remember for years. TRIVIA: The hero, Tex is played by Nicholas Parsons. Tex’s songs are sung by Michael Holliday. Let’s not mention Freddie Mills….

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