BWW Review: ME AND MY GIRL, Chichester Festival Theatre

BWW Review: ME AND MY GIRL, Chichester Festival Theatre

BWW Review: ME AND MY GIRL, Chichester Festival TheatreA man plucked from obscurity, adjusting quickly with a mix of good sense and charm to an unexpected situation who, with a little help from his friends and a commitment to his own values, triumphs.

But enough about understudy. Ryan Pidgen, thrust into the lead role by Matt Lucas's indisposition - what about the plot of Me And My Girl?

Well... a man plucked from obscurity...

Chichester Festival Theatre's big summer show is very big indeed, a showy, schmaltzy, sock-it-to-'em musical revival that crowdpleases like few others. You can see every penny up there on stage and people who love musicals will really, really love this one. However, other opinions are available.

See - I'm getting carried away just thinking about it!

We're in a country house whose heir, long lost dahn the East End of that London, has been found and stands to inherit the pile (and piles of cash) if deemed a suitable person for the title, Lord Hareford no less.

In a Pygmalion style (and there's an explicit nod to Shaw and an implicit one to Gilbert and Sullivan in the show) the cheerful Cockney costermonger, Bill, is schooled in English etiquette by his warring Aunt and her consort, while hangers-on fret about their futures and servants gossip. The stumbling block is Sally, Bill's girl, to whom he is devoted but who is persona non grata at the estate. Bill would be happy to throw over the whole thing and go back to Lambeth with Sally, but she wants him to follow his destiny.

Will it all work out in the end? Well, what do you think...

As is the case with Wodehouse (and one half expects Lord Emsworth to arrive, wellies on, reeking of pigsties, at any moment) this was nostalgic stuff when written back in the 30s, so it feels terribly dated in the age of Hamilton - but that, for this audience and thousands more, is a strength not a weakness. There are no surprises at all (save one) and if there appear to be at least two superfluous roles and most others underwritten to the point of caricature, nobody is expecting Sondheim.

If your mind drifts a little as the characters who always bicker in these plots bicker and bicker and bicker, one can admire the costumes, (credit Rachel Dickson) which are ravishing. Bias cut dresses, navy and white swimsuits, Oxford bags, cable knit sweaters, brogues - the whole kit and caboodle of that most elegant decade is there, on show, for us. Bravo!

Alistair David choreographs the cast (whose abilities to dance are, shall we say, variable) wonderfully well on an enormous stage, the ensemble numbers stopping the show for applause - as they should.

Ah, that stage and that huge auditorium, the biggest I've ever seen! That's a challenge for the actors and Caroline Quentin as the Duchess of Dene, the iron-fisted ruler of the house, is lost a little at times, the space commanding here rather than the other way round. She sings particularly well though.

All the more credit to Pidgen, who is wonderfully at home as Bill, somehow developing an instant chemistry with Alex Young, winsome and winning as Sally. She really nails her big solo - "Once I Lose Your Heart" - and generally holds the show together as we understand why she wants away, but we're all hoping that her plans will fail.

We get the Lambeth Walk of course, milked to within an inch of its life, played by an eleven piece orchestra under Gareth Valentine that teetered on the edge of being too loud, but never quite overpowered the singing, in which Siubhan Harrison and Dominic Marsh shone.

There's a splendid "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" opener to Act Two that gets everything going again, but the standout is "Leaning On A Lamppost". Reimagined as a dream sequence, it's a remarkable five minutes, a total surprise in a staunchly surprise-free show, and a real coup de theatre with echoes of Disney's Fantasia and Singing In The Rain too.

If this production has its flaws - and it does - it would be churlish not to point out that they are far outweighed by its merits. People will go to see an old school musical delivered with old school showmanship and, as The Greatest Showman proves, if a production is not advancing the artistic development of culture, it does not make it any less popular. Nor any less worthy of its box office.

Me And My Girl continues at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 25 August.

Photo Johan Persson

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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