Review: POLICE COPS: THE MUSICAL, Southwark Playhouse

This Fringe hit has all the makings of a cult classic

By: Sep. 18, 2023
Review: POLICE COPS: THE MUSICAL, Southwark Playhouse

Review: POLICE COPS: THE MUSICAL, Southwark Playhouse The US police force perhaps isn’t the most obvious subject for a comedy musical, but Police Cops: The Musical turns an unlikely premise into a undeniable hit. Fresh from a hit run at the Edinburgh Fringe, this slick satire of the US eighties is enjoying yet more success in London.

From the minds of trio Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson and Tom Roe comes a full-throttle ride through the cliches of American action movies. Unassuming teen Jimmy Johnson (Hunt) experiences a tragic loss that drives him towards his dream of being “the best damn police cop ever”. He ends up on a quest to take down the big bad in which he partners with a rogue retired cop, reunites with his high school crush, and travels to Mexico. All of this is told through a relentlessly silly brand of comedy, closer to laugh-a-second than laugh-a-minute.

Police Cops has been around for a while now, but this latest iteration showcases a fully formed two-act musical. The original team have penned brilliantly witty lyrics, which are set to a catchy score from EugeniusBen Adams drawing on all the MT tropes as well as classic eighties pop bangers. Andrew Exeter works his set/lighting magic once again, and it all comes together to form a high-budget, high-octane production. 

Where Police Cops: The Musical really shines is in its professionalism. The show is completely ridiculous, but remains slick, excellently performed, and constantly engaging. The cast and creatives demonstrate real skill in both comic satire and musical theatre, hitting every beat of both. Recurring gags are slotted in amongst end of act one mash-ups, eleven o'clock numbers, and speech-to-song transitions. This team clearly understand both of their key genres completely, and have created something electric by bringing the two together.

This musical’s particular brand of comedy is so silly, so dumb that it’s genius. It feels reminiscent both of the YouTube sketch comedy of the earlier 2010s and of British pantomime, combining visual gags with dad jokes and physical comedy. Particularly excellent moments include some hysterical audience participation, and a collection of iconic cameo characters. 

The Police Cops team are not afraid to push boundaries - a number of the jokes do revolve around the likes of guns and racism towards Mexicans, but they are clearly self-aware and only very rarely is a line somewhat crossed. Nonetheless, in its satirisation of macho US masculinity there is perhaps some sidelining of the women onstage that isn’t conscious, and the gunshots could perhaps be flagged up more pre-show. 

In spite of this, Melinda Orengo and Natassia Bustamente give two of the show’s best performances. The latter especially is the vocal stand-out of the company, giving a polished MT performance while still embracing her unhinged character comedy moments. Both do a lot of multi-rolling, and absolutely succeed at landing all of their various jokes. Their clear vocal/dance training combines unexpectedly well with the mens’ sketch comedy backgrounds. 

Hunt, Parkinson, and Roe star in the show, as well as having written and directed it. As the leading man, Hunt is the heart of the piece, taking on his role with a seemingly never-ending well of energy and enthusiasm. Roe, whose roles include rogue retiree partner Harrison, has sharp comic timing and improv skills, while Parkinson is perhaps the overall funniest, playing several of the most unhinged characters and always fully committing to the bit.

Part of the joy of Police Cops comes from how clear it is that the whole team are having the time of their lives. It’s often possible to spot cast members stifling laughter, while MD Gabriel Chernick was so full of glee the whole time it almost pulled focus. 

Another outstanding element of the show is the stagecraft. Every element of the production, from lighting to band to stage management is made part of the comedy, in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen pulled off before. Things like costume changes, getting props offstage, and even follow spots are woven into the comedy beats of the piece in a way that shows real thought. This show is the perfect example of making a pretty intricate show come across as utterly straight-forward.

Police Cops: The Musical is an unlikely gem, combining wacky satiric comedy with slick, professional musical theatre. With something for everyone, MT fan or hater, this is a show with cult classic potential. It’s impossible not to spend the whole time grinning, and it’s absolutely some of the most fun you can have at the theatre. This story of the "best damn police cop" is some of the best damn musical comedy around. 

Police Cops: The Musical runs at Southwark Playhouse (Borough) until 14 October

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

Read our brilliant Guest Blog with Police Cops: The Musical writer Nathan Parkinson here.


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Did they do it? It's a 50/50 and you decide. And you have a lot of fun getting there too.

From This Author - Katie Kirkpatrick

Katie is a director/producer/critic based in Oxford, and the co-founder of Love Song Productions. She loves queer theatre, new musicals, and gig theatre. You can find her on Twitter @ka... Katie Kirkpatrick">(read more about this author)



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