First Night: Daddy Cool, Shaftesbury Theatre, London
A sad attempt to cash in on a back catalogue
Friday 22 September 2006
Mamma mia, whatever possessed the producers of Daddy Cool - or have I answered my own question?
The latest attempt to cash in on a back catalogue, this musical uses the songs of Boney M as plot points or characterisations. But these impersonal numbers have neither raw passion nor easy confidence; the performers squall and the bass thumps relentlessly, as monotonous as Michelle Collins' attempts to act. One can't feel affection for anyone here, for the music isn't out to charm us or gain our sympathy, merely impress us with a series of song-and-dance numbers in which the girls splay, split and kick their legs like Swiss Army knives with all the blades going at once and the men clutch their privates.
This hard-sell is hardly convincing, though, given Jon Morrell's tacky design and the lack of reality in this story of Notting Hill gangs (one black, one integrated) that don't swear or use drugs. When, shades of West Side Story, a boy from one gang falls for a girl from the other, they lock eyes and lips but not legs.
The young lover is, of course, named Sunny. We first see him as a small boy, played by a child whose grin stretches across half his face, who often uses it in self-approbation, and for whom strangling is too good. Grown-up Sunny is impersonated by Dwayne Wint, his girlfriend by Camilla Beeput, and both sing pleasingly and express enthusiasm, which is all the script calls on them to do. The girl's evil mother is Ma Barker, the secret Mrs Big behind the bad gang (they wear black). Her hand welded to her hip, her chin tilted forward, Collins emits various half-hearted taunts in a manner that makes one understand the unusually frank, if cruel description of her in the programme: "She was originally booked for 11 episodes [of Eastenders] and overstayed her welcome by 10 years."
Though it took two writers to concoct the book, their hearts do not seem to have been in it. Sunny is framed for attempted murder, but two minutes after we see him unhappy in prison, he strides into the Notting Hill Carnival in another white outfit - a witness has come forward to clear him, and everyone dances. At this point, when a 20ft bust with electric red eyes is unveiled and a giant parrot descends over the stalls, one could hear the voice of little Sunny's Caribbean grandmother: "How many times I tell you, don' be trowin' good money after de bad."
Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Beckham, is the "creative associate." Old hands will recognise this mysterious but essential position. When the reviews come out, she is the one everyone else can point to and say: "It was her idea".
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