FINGS AIN’T WOT THEY USED TO BE
book by Frank Norman music & lyrics by Lionel Bart.
Union Theatre 204 Union Street SE1 0LX To 4 June 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 2pm.
Runs 2 hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
Fings is thin but fun with Phil.
Given a new play at Stratford East, Joan Littlewood tore it to shreds and reworked it, creating a vibrant theatricality without hiding the underlying mediocrity – or worse. For even Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey is a pearl before the swine of a script Frank Norman provided. No wonder Littlewood wanted Lionel Bart’s songs.
But it’s little wonder she wanted Norman’s piece too, as a celebratory party-piece for what was then (1959) the theatre’s White working-class audience. More a series of scenes linked by its characters than a play, it was, as a song has it, ‘Contemporary’, opening with a pretty accurate depiction of the legal difficulties in enforcing the latest attempt to remove prostitution from public, the Street Offences Act.
Norman knew this world, having seen it from behind various sorts of bars. There’s a corrupt cop, a central long-term relationship between club-owner Fred and Lil that ends by her insisting he marry her – not the only possible resemblance to My Fair Lady, with its dustman Doolittle forced into respectability.
There was clearly a recognition factor for early audiences, but without Bart’s music there’d be little point in a revival. It’s only the title song that’s really memorable (even that comes close to turning up like a bad penny by the end of this evening), but Phil Wilmott’s lively production enjoys its stereotype whores and restores elements the censor had removed.
These include camp interior decorator Horace and his effeminate gang. No censor around to stop them nowadays; yet nowadays no-one would dare try such caricature gays in a theatre. It’s hard to complain, though, at the sheer verve of the group production number rising out of Horace’s ‘Contemporary’. The second, longer act can try the patience at times, – it’s promised gangland climax takes place, anti-climactically, offstage.
But knife-scarred Neil McCall is a fine gruff gang-boss, while Hannah-Jane Fox finds humanity in his Lil. Around are a fearsome array of brasses, and a new threat in the emerging Krays, while the older generation are finely stereotyped in Patsy Blower’s Mo and Robert Donald’s confused old tealeaf Redhot.
Lil: Hannah-Jane Fox.
Fred: Neil McCall.
Barbara: Suzie Chard.
Inspector Collins: Hadrian Delacey.
Betty: Ruth Alfie Adams.
Redhot: Robert Donald.
Mo: Patsy Blower.
Jimmy: Ian Rixon.
Grace: Keley Hall.
Hon. Percy/Priest: James Horne.
Myrtle: Ellie Rose Boswell.
Horace: Richard Foster-King.
Joan: Natalie Harman.
Tosher: Jo Parsons.
Margaret: Anna McNicholas.
PC/Gangster/Interior Decorator: Philip Scutt, Philip Marriott, Alison Dormer, Amelia Whitwood.
Double Bass: A J Brinkman.
Director: Phil Willmott.
Designer/Costume: Oliver Townsend.
Lighting: Jason Meninger.
Musical Supervisor/Arranger: Elliot Davis.
Musical Director: Barney Ashworth.
Choreographer: Nick Winston.
Paintings: Adam Welsh.
Assistant director: Christopher Hornby.
Associate designer: Emma Tompkins.
Assistant choreographer: Ewan Jones.