Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review Roundup: PRIVATES ON PARADE at the Noel Coward Theatre

PRIVATES ON PARADE opened at the Noel Coward Theatre on 10 December and is playing through 2 March 2013.  Private Steven Flowers is posted to the Song and Dance Unit in South East Asia where serving under the flamboyant Captain Terri Dennis he discovers it takes more than just a uniform to become a man.

Simon Russell Beale plays the cross-dressing Captain Dennis whose performances of Marlene Dietrich, Vera Lynn and Carmen Miranda form the centrepiece of Peter Nichols' award-winning comedy set against the murderous backdrop of the Malaysian campaign at the end of the Second World War.

Let's see what the critics had to say:

Michael Billington of the Guardian says: Michael Grandage could hardly have made a better start to his five-show West End season than with this joyous revival of Peter Nichols's 1977 play with music. With songs by Denis King, it is much more than a star vehicle for Simon Russell Beale: it offers a heady mix of personal memoir, musical parody and jaundiced account of postwar colonial politics.

Charles Spencer in the Telegraph writes: Grandage's outstanding production is also blessed with an irresistible star performance from Simon Russell Beale. He plays the outrageously camp Captain Terri Dennis, who refers to our Lord as Jessica Christ and during a moment of stress memorably announces: "You dare speak to an officer like that and I'll scream the place down."

Harry Hitchings of the Evening Standard has this to say: Russell Beale is wickedly camp, at times resembling a pantomime dame. His Terri is a shrewd study of exuberant amateurism. But his performance is full of nuance and humanity. Also impressive are Sophiya Haque as Flowers's entrancing lover, Sam Swainsbury as a lustful flight sergeant and John Marquez as a Brummie accordionist who swears like a shipful of drunken sailors.

Libby Purves in The Times reports: The big numbers are done with artful amateurism by Simon Russell Beale's Captain Terri...The pleasure of watching this actor is never one-dimensional. Subtly, he indicates that Terri's is the pre-Wolfenden campery which, not allowed openly to love or mourn, laughed at its own pain and loss with defensive bravery. He expresses Terri's mournful gentleness beautifully.

Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times says: Michael Grandage is not just an adroit director but also an astute programmer. His revival of Peter Nichols and Denis King's 1977 play with songs, opening his West End season as it does in the pre-Christmas period (and 11 years to the day after his Donmar production of it starring Roger Allam), seems at once to offer an alternative to pantomime and, with a beefy man in drag and a succession of unsubtle double entendres, to continue the spirit of panto by other means.

Sam Marlowe of The has this to say: That show-stealing role is inhabited to the hilt by Simon Russell Beale as the flamboyantly camp star of SADUSEA (Song and Dance Unit of South East Asia), a fictional military concert party dispatched to colonial post-war Malaya.

Peter Brown of the London Theatre Guide says: Simon Russell Beale looks like he is enjoying every moment as the camp and effeminate artiste, Terri Dennis. There is obviously plenty of humour to be milked from this kind of role, but Mr Beale does not lapse into excess.

Michael Coveney of writes: Those leads are now deliciously taken by Simon Russell Beale and Angus Wright as, respectively, Acting Captain Terri Dennis and Major Flack, the first a blissfully camp cabaret turn of the sort Nichols knew at first hand in his own South East Asia unit alongside Kenneth Williams and Stanley Baxter, the second an absurd authority figure with an over-developed sense of patriotism as, in this period, Communism replaces Hitler as Public Enemy Number One.

Johnny Fox of the Londonist says: On the surface, it's an Eastwards-shifted 'It Ain't Half Hot, Mum' where a troupe of stereotype squaddies puts on cheery and cheesy song-and-dance shows around Singapore while the guerrilla war rages up-country. All very fine and large, particularly SRB's off-the-scale performance played eye-rollingly resolutely to the gallery, until their jingoistic commanding officer Major Flack (nice work by Angus Wright) in a mixture of home counties patriotism and Christian crusade decides to take them up the jungle to the heart of the action..."a theatre of war".

Mark Shenton of the Stage writes: But this is also, like all Grandage's work, a brilliant company effort, too, and there's beautifully textured performances from a cast that includes Joseph Timms as virginal new company arrival Private Steven Flowers, John Marquez as Corporal Leo Bonny and Angus Wright as Major Giles Flack.

Related Articles View More UK / West End Stories   Shows

From This Author Review Roundups