When they danced cheek-to-cheek in those romantic screwball screen musicals of the 1930s, only one of the said cheeks tended to sport stubble. Cut to 1975. In their affectionately daffy Off-Broadway homage to the genre, Bill Solly and Donald Ward introduced a sharp, drolly subversive twist.
The tap-dancing in white tie and tails and the madcap plot that lurches from the Savoy through various sophisticated watering holes to the Follies in Paris unfold here in a parallel 1930s where it's so taken for granted that gay and straight love deserve equal status that sexual orientation goes unmentioned and there are even high-society same-sex marriages in church.
Never has a rebuke to intolerance been delivered with such nonchalant light-heartedness or a political point been made with such sweet-natured implicitness. Gene David Kirk's production (the UK premiere) delightfully communicates the giddy good humour of this charming oddity with its playful pastiche score and its Fred-and-Ginger-style romance between two men.
When handsome, hard-bitten American foreign correspondent Casey O'Brien (excellent Stephen Ashfield) drunkenly misses out on the story of the decade (the Abdication of Edward VIII) he turns his attention to the abortive nuptials of a Boston millionaire and Guy Rose, the impoverished young English aristocrat who has jilted him. Casey embarks on an urgent quest for the latter, ironically helped incognito by the very youth himself. A deceptively dowdy duckling, Guy will need to find his inner swan, if he's ever to live up to the mythical beauty of Casey's dreams.
Craig Fletcher is wonderfully affecting and funny as he projects the awkward, almost Twelfth Night-like poignancy of Guy's predicament. High-spirited justice is done, too, to the deliriously silly aspects, as when the couple suddenly discover they have a common interest in scouting and launch into a lunatic paean, replete with salutes and semaphore, to the open-air charms of “A Boy's Life”.
Pastiche, it's true, can become claustrophobically knowing but everything about this production is calculated to transmit the un-jaded freshness of the material - from the sparkling wit with which Lee Proud's choreography and Alice Walkling's resourceful Art Deco design make an asset of the theatre's intimacy to the versatility of the captivating company who have to run the gamut from scribbling hacks to saucy fan dancers.
All hilariously timed, throwaway disdain as the snooty, would-be Machiavellian millionaire, Ben Kavanagh is a baddie you adore to hate. An unexpected Christmas treat.
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