Julian Eaves reviews I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! now playing at Chiswick Playhouse.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change
5 November 2019
What better way to re-open a refurbished theatre than with a refurbished play? This warhorse of the small-scale musical theatre repertoire has been totally re-thought and in some very significant ways also re-written for the contemporary world. The in-house production team, led by director Charlotte Westenra, brings a fresh and pungently ‘different’ touch to its revival. In what was the Tabbard Theatre and is now the Chiswick Playhouse, Mark Perry, Executive Director, has acquired permission from book and lyrics author, Joe Di Pietro, to update and reshape his text for this perennial favourite. The reworking enables this production to reflect not only the modern world of sexting and same-sex relationships, but also a panoply of UK regional accents, with the dialogue and lyrics fine-tuned to correspond to domestic particulars, daily interests and national obsessions. It would be great to see more UK theatres doing this with US shows; it enables us to see and hear them in entirely new ways: this is helped along no end by the smart ‘revue’ format of the show’s non-linear sequence of songs and sketches linked by the common theme of relationships – of all kinds – but, even so, it’s a model that might well work for other types of show.
With a stylish and cosmic sense of stage design by Verity Johnson (scenic artist, Charlotte Dennis), this production draws out the ‘universal’ elements of the story as much as possible, and with Neill Brinkworth’s alert lighting (production LX Ben Cowens) and doyen of MD accompanists, veteran expert Stuart Pedlar at the keyboard gracefully and sensitively smoothing the way from one perfectly judged number to the next, this show is a visual and sonic delight. The multi-faceted choreography is by Steven Harris.
But what this show is all about are the relationships and the fun that it is to be had from witnessing a crack team of professionals tear them apart before our very eyes. Headlining, George Rae speaks often in his Caledonian tones and finds plenty in the script to bounce off with an often mordant, dour sense of humour under his dark crop of hair. Dominic Hodson is warm foil to him, and totally capable of either exploiting or playing right against his blond boyish matinee idol looks. Similarly well contrasted are the women: Laura Johnson’s slightly more experienced and knowing brunette, and Naomi Slights’ more elfin, quirky blond. This juxtaposition functions at its best, perhaps, when they are paired up, not least in the toe-curlingly embarrassing doting parents scene, where they are two mums – both called Sarah – fussing monomaniacally about their daughter, called – inevitably – ‘Sarah Junior’, and reducing visiting gay friend Hodson to jabbering hostility, in the process. Elsewhere, the men have a couple of ‘gay dating’ experiences to act out: the brilliantly written ‘speed dating’ scene (not what you might think, by the way), and the last gasp encounter of two bereaved oldies are delicious ‘turns’ which never fail to delight.
Jimmy Roberts’ score may not contain any numbers to whistle on the way out of the theatre, but the ones he does put it have sufficient interest to hold our attention why they last. So, very much in the age-old tradition of really well-made revue, this production succeeds as a light and perfectly performed tasting menu at life’s magnificent and mystifying feast. After its 90 sublime minutes have slipped by, you won’t feel full, but you’ll want to have a lot more of it.