PRIVATES ON PARADE
by Peter Nicholls
with music by Denis King.
The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, Union Street, Southwark SE1 0LR to 17 December 2017.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876
Review: William Russell 25 November
A jingle, jangle, jungle jamboree
Peter Nicholls famous comedy first staged in 1977 comes up as fresh as paint in this splendid revival directed in high style by Kirk Jameson. It is set in Malaya in 1948 during what was possibly the last of our colonial wars, a struggle disguised under the euphemistic title of a State of Emergency in which British troops fought Communist freedom fighters. At stake were the raw materials Malaya’s mines and rubber plantations provided us with. Many of the troops were national servicemen and Nicholls concentrates on a small group of players, including a professional actor hired to lead it, who entertain ed the troops, part of the Combined Service Song and Dance Unit South East Asia (SADUSEA) , drawing on his own time doing national service with the Combined Services Entertainment set up as the successor to ENSA, the wartime body.
It is very funny, Denis King has come up with a series of glorious pastiche tunes, the lyrics are a joy and Nicholls has serious points to make about the end of empire, being British and being gay. But sit back and enjoy. Simon Green is in fine fettle as the professional star of the troop, Terri Dennis, there with an honorary rank because jobs back home are scarce. He is outrageous, savours Nicholls’ double entendres and catch phrases with glee – his way with Ich Liebe dich is to savour – and displays the warmest of hearts.
If I have a quibble it is that he needs to study Noel Coward’s delivery a little more – the Coward song about losing the war we won is worthy of the Master – and he could cut down on the camp when he does Very Lynn as her number is a song she so easily have sung. It is splendidly suggestive and filthy and sending her up rather weakens the joke. But that said, he gives a wonderfully assured performance. Jameson has assembled a fine cast with Samuel Curry creating a suitably priggish about to be deflowered virgin who is not as nice as he seems as the new boy Flowers and Paul Sloss, who has the wickedest of grins, making the most of the regular Len whose gift for the gab consists of one much used four letter word.
But this is an ensemble evening. Mike Lees has come up with a clever set, Jameson’s touch is assured, Green as Marlene, Noel, Carmen and Vera is suave and accomplished, Callum Coates makes the most of the insane commanding officer who gets them into terrible trouble, and Martha Pothen is touching as the Eurasian who deflowers Flowers. The Union has come up with possibly its best show of the year.
Terri Dennis: Simon Green.
Steve Flowers: Samuel Curry.
Giles Flack: Callum Coates.
Sylvia Morgan: Martha Pothen.
Len Bonney: Paul Sloss.
Charles Bishop: Tom Pearce.
Reg Drummond: Matt Beveridge.
Eric Young-Love: Matt Hayden.
Kevin Cartwright: Tom Bowen.
Lee: Mikey Howe.
Director/Musical Staging: Kike Jameson.
Designer: Mike Lees.
Musical Supervisor: Nick Barstow.
Lighting Designer: Ben Jacobs.
Wardrobe: The Attic Costume Collective.