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Review: BONNIE & CLYDE, Arts Theatre

The beloved cult musical debuts in the West End in a criminally seductive re-staging directed by Nick Winston.

Review: BONNIE & CLYDE, Arts Theatre

Review: BONNIE & CLYDE, Arts Theatre Stop the press! The most renowned victims of the romanticisation of violence have taken up residence in London. The Arts Theatre - former home of the worldwide hit Six - is now housing the West End debut of Bonnie & Clyde.

The musical made a splash in 2011 when it opened on the Great White Way with Broadway babies Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan as the title characters, garnering nods across the board during awards season.

This brand new re-staging was announced at the enormously successful staged concert at Theatre Royal Drury Lane back in January, which saw Jordan taking the mic in the role of Clyde once more.

The show's legions of fans can rest assured, it's a bulletproof production. And all the others who still need to make their minds up will have their rib cages robbed of their hearts from the get-go.

Directed by Nick Winston, Francesca Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage are the outlaw lovers. With music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell, the Depression-era tale has become a well-oiled classic.

The score is good ol' Broadway pop laced with country and western with a dash of blues and rock, while the dialogue is true blue Southern drawl. Petty thefts in grocery shops grow into bank robberies and murders before everything ends in fatal ambush. Thus, Bonnie and Clyde's romance lives on as they lie dead in a car on a rural Louisiana road.

Winston's vision is picturesque, but also very Old Hollywood. Sets (designed by Philip Witcomb) change quickly from hideouts in small Texas towns to petrol stations in the middle of nowhere, all pervaded by a run-down, rusty look that reiterates the disillusionment with the broken American dream.

Where Winston's direction is decisive and filled with beautiful moments, his choreography draws the short straw and appears rather weak with only one mid-sized number at the opening of the second act.

He builds a circular piece, etching the characters' never-ending love story in stone with a gorgeously subtle final moment between the career criminals. McCann and Gage share a sizzling chemistry from beginning to end.

Just cocky enough to have you swoon, Gage is the hot-headed, lovable rascal who idolises Billy The Kid and strips Bonnie of her clothes with every glance he shoots. McCann completes the couple with Bonnie's big dreams of fame and glory.

The pair complement each other in range and presence impeccably. "This World Will Remember Me" grows into "This World Will Remember Us", mirroring their developing relationship. Every duet confirms their characters' hero status, but every solo gives us two stars in the making.

It's rivalry at first sight between Bonnie and Natalie McQueen's Blanche. The latter steals the scene as Buck's wife and Clyde's sister-in-law. A rule-laying, God-fearing, silver-tongued southern belle, she fights tooth and nail to keep Buck on an honest path. Where Bonnie ecstatically chooses "A short and loving life", Blanche dreams of an ordinary one with an appropriately ordinary husband.

But Clyde's pull on his brother is too deep and virtually signs her death sentence as well as his. As Buck, George Maguire handles comedy easily (his entrance in Blanche's salon is one for the books), but truly shines when paired with Gage.

The two main couples are surrounded by an equally strong cast, featuring some outstanding performances by Cleve September as Bonnie's childhood friend - and deputy sheriff - who's not-so-secretly in love with her and Ako Mitchell as the Preacher.

A decade may have passed since the musical opened on Broadway and it's been almost 90 years since the last time Bonnie and Clyde made a front page, but it's striking to notice how little has changed in the United States.

The story introduces a fallen America where breadlines are the norm and the judicial system is as flawed as it is dangerous. Winston builds on these themes with subtle hints throughout, giving in to a no-nonsense approach during "Made in America".

It's during this number that Nina Dunn's projections make a statement rather than remaining a gimmicky way-out due to narrative needs or mere backdrops. A line-up of various firearms expands upwards to form the stripes of the Star-Spangled Banner, echoing a fundamental and topical issue.

Bonnie & Clyde is not only surprisingly funny but also conceals a tactfully political vein. It's an exquisitely performed and criminally seductive story that skillfully criticises a system that keeps failing its people. It might not be a perfect production, but it's what we need. A glass of cold lemonade at a hair salon in the deep hot heart of Texas, if you will.

Bonnie & Clyde runs at the Arts Theatre until 10 July.

Photo credit: Richard Davenport

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