MUSICAL Divorce Me, Darling Chichester Festival Theatre; On the slight side

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The Independent Culture
From the Star Wars Trilogy to Steven Spielberg's record-breaking The Lost World, cinema is obsessed with sequels. Musical theatre has been more circumspect. There are noticeably few follow-ups to past glories and those that spring to mind - Annie 2, Bring Back Birdie and The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public - came and went with indecent haste. As lyricist Alan Jay Lerner put it in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, "Why is the sequel never equal / Why is there no encore?" On a Clear Day opened on Broadway in the winter of 1965 - the same time as Divorce Me, Darling, Sandy Wilson's sequel to his celebrated hit The Boy Friend, opened in the West End.

If you've only ever seen Ken Russell's gloriously preposterous film of The Boy Friend, you will be unaware of the simple charm at the heart of Wilson's affectionate pastiche of Twenties shows like No, No, Nanette and The Girl Friend. Divorce Me, Darling, like its predecessor, is light, bright and almost impossibly slight, the musical equivalent of soft ice- cream: sweet, whipped-up nonsense, full of air. What's laughingly called the plot takes place after the multiple happy endings of the previous show. Here they are again on the Riviera with a 10-year itch. Polly, now wife to the Honourable Tony Brockhurst, runs into dashing American Bobby Van Husen all over again. Sparks are reignited and spouses reappear at precisely the wrong moments.

Fifteen years ago, Chichester paid Wilson the compliment of a starry revival of his show Valmouth. The theatre hasn't stinted on the casting this time either. Right up to the interval, actors were making their first entrances to rounds of applause from the eager first-night audience, Natalia Makarova, Rula Lenska, Vera Lynn... and that was just the row behind me. Ruthie Henshall and Tim Flavin both starred in the sensational Crazy for You but, sadly, not at the same time. Together at last, they show the rest of the cast how it should be done. Their ever-so-slightly dangerous emotions are never overplayed and they have a genuine unforced charm that makes the material float. Their Private Lives scene on adjoining balconies has a grace that lifts into dizzying delight when they dance, Henshall's long line balanced by the liquidity of Flavin's hips.

As the former Mme Dubonnet, forced to become (shudder) a cabaret star, Liliane Montevecchi is quite simply a glory, and Simon Butteriss and Marti Webb milk the Cole Porter "You're the Top" rip-off for all it's worth. Joan Savage is splendid as a Captain Mainwaring-style fitness fanatic, with panto expert Jack Tripp in a rare trouser role as her husband, but most of the rest of the cast confuse style and finesse with ham and camp.

Hugh Durrant's elegant art deco design runs to some very beautiful costumes - I particularly liked Henshall's lilac number with what looked like bunches of wistaria on her shoulders - but, frankly, much of Paul Kerryson's production feels assembled rather than directed. The tone lurches from fresh to frantic and the same applies to the choreography. Maybe he thought that if he kept the company busy, we wouldn't notice the thinness of the material. I'm not convinced he was right.

To 27 Sep. Booking: 01243 781312

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