JANUARY : The Musical Revue
The Crazy Coqs
24th January 2017
It was lovely to get to see another outing for this charming seasonal work-in-progress feast last week. First launched last year at the Canal Cafe Theatre, with a different line-up, this show made a terrific initial impact. Perfectly suited to the spontaneous, almost improvisational atmosphere of the home of the News Revue, this show made a big splash. Then, the authors said it was their intention to go away and improve upon it, and this – glamorously repositioned into the West End – is the result of a year’s further labour. The three-hander offers about a dozen songs – and a couple of brief sketches – loosely linked by the common factor that they all belong in the first month of the year. It’s a clever idea, and given witty and sometimes touching expression in the songs of Patrick Stockbridge. The book, such as it is, comes from producer Alexander Parker. The show runs about an hour, and is a delightful addition to the new regime at this venue under the careful tutelage of artistic director James Albrecht. One survivor from the Little Venice premiere is MD Tim Gilvin (from whom we were lucky to get to hear more than just music…). With David Rice on bass and Fred Claridge on drums, the band was great.
Most attention, however, inevitably went to the personalities we had come to see. The new cast of top-notch West End stars Julie Atherton, Hannah Grover and Marc Pickering was clearly a fine draw, and the venue was full to hear what they would do with this amusing premise. And in the sumptuous surroundings of this venue – the former billiards room of the grandest of grand hotels built in the early years of the Great War – one could not have wished for a more accomplished trio. The third song in particular, ‘Postcard Paradise’, landed magnificently well, bringing the characters, attitudes and mood of the lavish situation together in hugely effective focus. It is remarkable how the choice of performance space can influence the effect material can have. In fact, at this point, we might well have happily stayed with the characters depicted and got to know them better: and that is something which the writers of this show might want to consider – with so many different ideas jostling for attention in this fascinating collection, establishing focus and concentration can be tricky.
Of the sketches, possibly the most perfectly realised was the Human Resources ‘post-office-Christmas-Party-trial’: a kafkaesque nightmare, riffing with dreamlike aplomb on the petty paranoias of everyday business life. Since this is a work-in-development, and advice is welcomed, in order to develop this further, maybe it might be useful to intensify the degree of thematic unity, perhaps by sticking to one central idea with even stricter discipline. The cleverly written ‘Plastic Dreams’ seems to offer a useful counter-balance to ‘Postcard Paradise’, with the two effectively book-ending the show in a way that the rather more generic ‘The First Month of the Year’ arguably does not.
There are many other stand-out moments: ‘Little Drink’ could have been written for Julie Atherton, while ‘Workforce Wanker’ is an ingeniously crafted trio where the comic resources of this fine group were exhibited at their finest. ‘Cell Block Diet Tango’ is a really clever joke, as are ‘Couch Potato’ and ‘Pursuit Of A Screw’. Stockbridge’s songs are invariably well-paced, beautifully structured, neatly written and lie gratefully on the voice. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this in its next guise, wherever that may be, and with whatever forces.