The Boy Friend
Book, Music & Lyrics by Sandy Wilson.
The Menier Chocolate Factory, 51 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU to 7 March 2020.
Tues – Sat 8pm Mat Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 25 mins Two intervals.
TICKETS: 020 7378 1111713.
Review: William Russell 4 December
Perfect musicals are few but The Boy Friend, a glorious pastiche of 1920s musicals, is such a show. It made Sandy Wilson’s name just as Salad Days did for his contemporary Julian Slade and, like Slade, he was never again to do anything so good although Valmouth, one of his later musicals, comes near to achieving that perfect musical status. His recreation of the world of shows like No No Nanette, Mr Cinders, Sally, Oh Kay and The Girl Friend was spot on. This latest revival glitters, moves seamlessly round a spectacular set, is strongly cast and should fill the Menier for the next few months with happy customers. It is not a perfect production – the sound engineer was overdoing it the night I saw the show and Hortense, the maid at the Villa Caprice finishing school – a little too like the young ladies in casting terms although well done by Tiffany Graves – was bawling like an enraged banshee when she got It’s Nicer in Nice, her big Act Two song, to deliver. Things did calm down but the original twenties shows were not miked and hearing a voice louder than any human voice should be is distracting.
It is also possibly a little too glitzy when it comes to the costumes – they parody the time rather than recreate it – and the young ladies at Mme Sunbonnet’s finishing school, although pretty, lack individuality. Certainly none have the spark shown by Maria Charles or Denise Hirst in 1954. The show ran for five years then which may not match the record of the behemoths like Phantom or Les Mis but was quite something.
Amara Okereke, as the heroine Polly Browne is spot on, sings like a lark and is everything a nice seventeen year old in love should be. Janie Dee makes an elegant Mme Dubonnet, proprieties of the school, although maybe she could be a little more Parisienne or Nicoise, and almost has to be tied down to stop joining in the tap routines, while Adrian Edmondson and Issy Van Randwyck as Lord and Lady Brockhurst, deliver It’s never too late to fall in love, the song about how the old wine tastes much nicer, perfectly and just about bring the house down. That has been slightly changed to include Lady Brockhurst as well as Dulcie, the young lady the lecherous Lord B is pursuing. After all if you have Issy Van Randwick in the cast you need to make use of her.
The plot is simple. The young ladies at Mme Dubonnet’s school all want to wed. Polly, who has nobody to escort her to the fancy dress ball, is suspicious of young men believing they might be after her inheritance – her father is a millionaire – falls for Tony, the nice young man who delivers her fancy Pierette costume and tells him she is Mme Dubonnet’s secretary. Her father Percival Browne turns up and he and Mme Dubonnet realise that they were once an item – Fancy Forgetting they sing when they realise what they had been to one another. The young ladies have lots of young men but when Lord and Lady Brockhurst arrive in town Polly is left thinking her nice young man is not so nice after all because he runs away and is believed to be a thief. But all turns out for the best. Tony proves to be the Brockhurst heir, while she reveals she is the daughter of a millionaire.
One gets the feeling that none of the creatives are as acquainted with what Wilson was paying homage to as they could be, but they have, that said, done a terrific job while not quite recreating what Wilson was doing. One has only to look at the photographs from the original 1957 production at Wyndham’s to see how they have ever so slightly got things wrong. It is not sufficiently wrong to do damage to this perfectly constructed show but it does diminish the joke. Wilson’s hit packed score, however, is performed magnificently by an unusually large orchestra – nine in all – housed in a kind of conservatory at the side of the stage, his lyrics come across loud and clear, and the in between acts scene shifting is entertainment in itself.
This delightful revival makes one long for the days when a room in Bloomsbury was affordable.
Hortense: Tiffany Graves.
Maisie: Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson.
Dulcie: Annie Southall.
Fay: Emily Langham.
Nancy: Chloe Goodliffe.
Polly Browne: Amara Okereke.
Alphonse: Tom Bales.
Marcel: Peter Nash.
Pierre: Ryan Carter.
Madame Dubonnet: Janie Dee.
Bobby Van Husen: Jack Butterworth.
Percival Browne: Robert portal.
Tony: Dylan Mason.
Lord Brockhurst: Adrian Edmondson.
Lady Brockhurst: Issy Van randwyck.
Gendarme: Craig Armstrong.
Female Guest: Alison Connell.
Lolita: Bethany Huckle.
Pepe: Matthew Ives.
Director: Matthew White.
Choreographer/Associate Director: Bill Deamer.
Designer: Paul Farnsworth. Lighting Designer: Paul Anderson/
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke.
\musical Supervisor, Director & Additional Arrangements: Simon Beck.
Orchestrator: David Cullen.
Company Voice & Dialect Coach: Penny Dyer.
Production photographs: Manuel Harlan.