REVIEW: Happily Ever Poofter, King’s Head Theatre ✭✭✭✭

Julian Eaves reviews Happily Ever Poofter at the King’s Head Theatre, London.

Happily Ever Poofter
Photo: Rah Petherbridge
Happily Ever Poofter
King’s Head Theatre
23rd January 2020
4 Stars
Book Tickets

Forged in the crucible of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern last year, this solo-musical-entertainment has grown and grown since then.  Beginning with runs at Above The Stag and at the Canal Café Theatre, it sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, and – briefly – at this same address in September.  The script has undergone considerable ‘finessing’, ditching much of its former polemic sententiousness and gaining welcome focus on the ribald, campy, drag act inspired humour and banter of its origins.  In July it was full of promise, with flashes of inspiration; now it crackles with zingy spirit and showbiz panache… albeit still on a budget.

This is the story of a gay Disney prince, who is miserable living in the idyllic paradise of cartoon characters.  His ‘fairy godfather’ sends him into ‘gay town’ (contemporary London) to live freely and happily, and to search for his true love.  He then embarks on a whirlwind tour of queer London, featuring all the famous hot-spots from Vauxhall to Soho and Hampstead Heath.  Liberally punctuated with craftily and ingeniously spoofed Disney songs – the script and lyrics are all from the creator and performer, Rich Watkin -, this becomes a cheerful, brash, occasionally tragic and thoughtful, but ultimately a feelgood show to stir the imagination and lift the spirits. 
With a nifty little set by Alicia Fowles and costumes concocted by polymath Watkins and ‘Bourgeoisie’, all deftly lit by David Digby and with a swooping, thumping sound design, it looks and sounds a treat.  Even better, Watkins has created a much tighter, more polished script: the experience of doing this show nightly in Edinburgh has immensely matured his grip on the audience and added considerable light and shade to his playful interactions with them.  He continues to attract a broad following, speaking to a gay male constituency in particular, but drawing in large support and approval from a mainstream crowd.  It is also that trickiest of forms: the one-person musical.  No mean feat with which to have scored such a success. 
Key to the show’s improvement is the contribution of Watkins’ co-producer and director, Denholm Spurr. Spurr’s eyes and ears have continually honed the material into ever sleeker, slicker shape: the style here is very much stand-up cabaret… within a narrative context.  He balances the two strands of artistry with nimble skill, never losing track of either, very handsomely accompanied by Simone Murphy’s flavoursome choreography.   They all share a profound belief in the project and the huge energy they are putting into its nurture are what – principally – seem to have brought it thus far, and are what will propel it still further along its way, a journey that is sure to see it continue to grow.
The show is now in situ at the King’s Head for a three-week run, before embarking upon an international tour that will embrace Australia, Germany, Czech Republic, and possibly also France and Belgium, before returning to Edinburgh this coming summer for a second visitation.  To have achieved this in a relatively short space of time with their first production is quite something.   Doubtless there are still things to refine further, but the rate at which advances are being made indicates that these are talents of special insight and imagination.  I laughed aloud at this performance a great deal, and felt a whole lot better for doing so.  A happy ending?  Well, for this gig, no end is yet in sight: but thus far it’s provided a great ride.  Get a taste of it while you can.
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