THE GREAT PRETENDERS
original music and lyrics by Neil Harrison book by Simon Jermond and Neil Harrison.
Upstairs At The Gatehouse Highgate Village N6 4BD To 15 November 2009.
Tue–Sat 7:30pm. Mat Sun 4pm.
Runs 2hr 20min. One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8340 3488.
Review: Geoff Ambler 27th October.
The Gatehouse goes backstage as a collection of tribute acts gather to entertain.
Now dusted off and revitalised, The Great Pretenders was first seen back in ’96 but due to a lack of commercial interest it sat on a shelf until recent enthusiasm for tribute acts inspired Neil Harrison to and polish it up a bit. Pretenders is a lightweight comic piece, unusually filled with original music rather than the jukebox tracks that would normally accompany this kind of subject matter.
Entertaining, but one dimensional characters abound; a pair of Marilyn Monroes, one blatantly evil the other not; an aging Vegas-years Elvis; a rebellious and libidinous Lennon; a perky Beyonce and an ex-soldier, now occasional Sally Bowles. They all gather for a talent competition that offers the winner a contract and the break that has eluded the more experienced contestants throughout their careers. Sharing a mixed dressing room allows them to flirt, snipe, snort, squabble, screw and sing – it is a musical after all
Elvis and the nicer, older Monroe have a past, having shared a brief holiday romance and contact details (his false) amongst other things. Crystal Van Lloy as Young Monroe is the panto baddie; discovering her older nemesis’ secret, she delights in creating turmoil between her and Elvis. When her inevitable comeuppance arrives she is hissed off-stage by some in the audience. As for PJ, aloof yet hunky, his character remains an enigma for most of the first act, though there’s little surprise when he appears in drag and bowler hat.
Gemma Harris’ set is a cluttered dressing-room, finelyl produced on a fringe budget, complete with a hidden glittering lift that delivers Leon Kay’s Bowles onto centre stage for his big emotional scene. While the music remains largely unspectacular it has its moments and the signature numbers the performers briefly deliver as their audition pieces are hilarious.
Director Christian Durham has achieved some fine work bringing a melange of entertaining egos to the fore within the piece. Still underwritten and with underexplored motivations The Great Pretenders entertains, but misses some opportunities to challenge a typically strong Gatehouse cast.
PJ: Leon Kay.
Joyce: Jennifer Saayeng.
Paula: Rebecca Bainbridge.
Andy: David Higgins.
Liam: Luke Jasztal.
Kat: Crystal Van Lloy.
Bidi: Susan Raasay.
Director: Christian Durham.
Designer: Gemma Harris.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Andy Evans.
Musical Director: Dean Austin.
Musical Staging: Racky Plews.
Costume: Stephie Hoyle.