The beloved TV institution has been given an unexpected theatrical makeover

By: Mar. 07, 2023
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Review: THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF MUSICAL, Noël Coward Theatre The trend for stage adaptations of already popular material shows no sign of relenting, as a musical version of everyone's favourite autumn comfort watching comes to the West End. It transfers following a successful run at the Cheltenham Everyman last summer, and stars Haydn Gwynne and John Owen-Jones as judges Pam Lee and Phil Hollinghurst (although we know who they're really supposed to be). Welcome to The Great British Bake Off Musical!

We arrive at the tent with hosts Kim and Jim ready for another series of this famous baking competition, and about to introduce the new contestants: Russell, Ben, Babs, Izzy, Hassan, Dezza, Francesca, and Gemma. Obviously we can't watch the ins and outs of an entire series, so the contest is condensed down into the odd signature, technical or showstopper round - which then gives us the chance to see behind-the-scenes of the filming, moments at the hotel, and other various interactions between the characters.

Remarkably, despite them not actually making anything (and very few 'bakes' being seen), you do find yourself drawn into the narrative and wanting to know who wins - though for some reason that is not shared with the audience, we're instead invited to watch the next series to find out. I suppose this ties in with their message of 'it's the taking part that counts' and all the friendships that are made along the way, but it's not the most satisfying conclusion to a two-and-a-half hour stage show.

Instead, the pay-off is meant to come from the romance storyline; this is a rather regressive choice of narrative for Gemma, considering she just wants to get out into the world to explore and experience new things, after staying at home and acting as her mum's carer for some time. Even if the reactions from Bake Off alumni dotted around the auditorium suggested that romance has been known to blossom, as a plot it is unfortunately rather dull and predictable.

Whilst the television show works because of the balance of humour, emotion, and the small matter of some baking, this doesn't translate quite as well to the stage. Francesca's song "Grow" starts off talking about "a bun in the oven" in typical Bake Off style, but then veers off into her fertility journey - and her later chat with Hassan about their immigrant status is just a bit clunky. Thankfully it doesn't segue into an equally awkward song, though it is alluded to in the laboured use of Hamilton riffs whenever Hassan has a solo.

The visuals are stunning; designer Alice Power has managed to create something very recognisable in the famous white tent, but with a bit of extra flair. The colours are bold and bright, and Ben Cracknell's excellent lighting design adds the final cherry on the cake.

One of the most impressive aspects of the show, both in terms of the look and the performance, is that of the judges. If Paul and Prue ever want to take a quick break from filming during the next series, John Owen-Jones and Haydn Gwynne have them down to a tee; Owen-Jones has absolutely mastered the arched eyebrow and smouldering glare, and Gwynne has embraced the double entendres and penchant for a dash of booze in the bake that we've come to know and love - plus Alice Power's costume design makes the pair instantly recognisable, even for those sat up in the gods.

Given the vocal talents of the twelve-strong adult cast, it does feel at times as if their skills are being underused - it could possibly benefit with more of the bakers being eliminated earlier on, so the handful who are left can be the focal points. Grace Mouat shines as arrogant, ultra-competitive Cambridge student Izzy, Jay Saighal is terrific value as hipster baker Dezza, and Charlotte Wakefield is funny and charming as the nervous Gemma. Zoe Birkett (Kim) and Scott Paige (Jim) bounce off each other as a wonderful double act, though you're also left wanting more from them as well.

Ultimately, the show does what it says on the cake tin. When it's funny, it's very funny; the humour leaps from saucy to surreal, and you never quite know what's coming next. Although patrons unfamiliar with the programme will be able follow pretty easily, this is one for the big Bake Off fans - see how many references to previous series you can spot! Overall, it's an enjoyable night out that brings something a little different to the West End.

The Great British Bake Off Musical is at the Noël Coward Theatre until 13 May

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan


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