BWW Review: TWANG!! THE MUSICAL, Union Theatre
People, and there are a few, who hate musicals, will really hate Twang!!. And people who like musicals? Well, quite a few of them will hate it too. But I liked it a lot!!!
Twang!! falls under the shadow of Oliver!, Lionel Bart's masterpiece and a (well, the) pinnacle of British musicals, but if we can forgive Paul McCartney his Frog Chorus, not to mention that Mull of Kintyre dirge, because he also wrote Here, There and Everywhere, shouldn't we extend that courtesy to Bart too? When a star burns as bright as his did at a young age, things are seldom what they used to be.
Julian Woolford's new book for the show sounds execrable when described - it's somewhere between It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Carry On Robin (amazingly never made) and a fourth wall retaining panto. That said, and if you're still reading, here's why it's garnered those four stars above.
It's really great fun!
I know this with 100% certainty, because I was exactly the sort of tired punter at the end of a long day on a midweek school night who might blanche (as Much the Miller's Son does in the first act) at "living in a musical", but I, and everyone around me, was bowled over by what the show does so well - and that's plenty enough to compensate for its myriad faults.
The plot (if it can be honoured with such a word) has Robin Hood bluffing his alpha male heroism because he's lost his "twang" - think Austin Powers and his lost mojo (and Doctor Evil gets a nod or two, so you don't have to think too hard). Hood's after Maid Marion, but she's pursued by the evil Prince John and his henchmen, and there's that silver arrow contest and merry (some might even go as far as gay) men living in the outlaw life in Sherwood Forest.
Never mind all that though. The cast have a simply glorious time, channeling Finbarr Saunders for some double entendres, reviving the madcap bonhomie of Brian Cant's Playaway (marvellous to hear "A Handful of Songs" from my memories of children's TV) and flooding the space with enough energy to raise the spirits of the most fatigued Londoner in town. It's not Sweeney Todd (though that show, and a dozen or so others, get quick references and knowing laughs) but it's not meant to be.
It's a true ensemble effort from the young cast and, if some voices get a little lost without mics for projection, every last one gives 100%, dancing, singing and
acting hamming. Jessica Brady gets the Babs Windsor part and does a fine job as man-mad Delphina, while Ed Court is a super villain and delivers a killer line perfectly as the show goes full meta towards the end. Louie Westwood has more than a touch of Biggins as Lukewarm in his camp charm as Friar Tuck and Stephen Patrick golemish Hob of the Hill is beautifully rendered too.
The songs aren't Bart's finest, but musical director, Henry Brennan keeps the hooks coming and Bart off-form is still better than most composers on form, so what's not to like? Look out for a showstopping piece of puppetry too!
Having recently seen a couple of Arts Council funded plays that aim to say profound things about The Way We Live Today but, shorn of clarity by confused writing, leave you with very little, this show is an ideal antidote. For all its flaws, it still makes you happy - and that's never a bad mood in which to venture out of the make-believe world and back into our own.
Photo Credit: Anton Belmonté