Arts: Suave, camp and risque

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The Independent Culture
FROM A "forgotten" Cole Porter musical that never made it to Broadway, director Roger Redfarn and new adapters, Steve Mackes and Michael Whaley, have fashioned a delightful summer treat. Based on the louche comic novel by James Laver, Nymph Errant was composed in 1933 for Gertrude Lawrence, its London premiere awash with lavishness and a whirl of spectacular sets as it wended its spendthrift way through the musical's numerous locations.

Part of the pleasure of Redfarn's witty revival comes from the cheekily resourceful manner in which this globe-trotting picaresque joke of a show has been scaled down for the Minerva Theatre and its little revolve. It follows the fortunes of Evangeline Edwards (a delectable Rae Baker), who, after graduating from a Swiss finishing school, finds herself ricocheting from country to country and from one unsuitable man to another as she looks for the Mr Right who was under her nose all along.

"Sometimes," declares Evangeline towards the end of misadventures that have seen her left stranded in Paris wearing only a Cubist canvas, dumped in a harem and lost as a gambling debt to a Greek shipping magnet, "it feels like there are only seven people in this world." That's one of the larky script's nice self-referring touches, because here a cast of thousands is suggested by a company of just seven. In a wonderfully entertaining identity crisis, Mark Adams impersonates all of Evangeline's many fickle male protectors. He makes a bewildering number of lightening costume changes and reappears as everything from a strutting, glarey-eyed Austrian nudist to a wild revolutionary Turk whose scimitar-wielding masculinity is compromised by his passion for silks. "I love the way this offsets my fierceness," he exclaims, as he wraps a gaudy length of the stuff around him.

The women also skilfully run the gamut - from hoity-toity finishing-school graduates to thigh-baring, feather-waving hoofers, in the raunchy razzle of a Parisienne Folies number. Madeleine St Maure delivers an adorably sexy send-up of sexiness, telling us that if we want "tendresse and volupte," she'll give us her "address for a rainy day".

Full of Porter's characteristic genius for suave, risque camp, the score contains the odd dud but also such knockout numbers as "Solomon", belted out by Ruby-Marie Hutchinson, and the classic "The Physician", performed by Rae Baker with just the right demureness-plus-a-hint-of-dirt, about a girl in love with a doctor who can only appreciate her as a collection of fascinating anatomical bits.

With the unifying humour of its small-scale re-conception, this revival avoids inviting the same kind of preference for delicious part over whole.

Paul Taylor

To 4 Sept, 01243 7811312