State Fair, Trafalgar Studios 2, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

State Fair was the only musical that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein composed specifically for the movies.

Released in 1945, the film earned them their sole song-writing Oscar for the exquisite "It Might As Well Be Spring". Should we be suspicious that it was 50 years before anyone got round to cobbling together a stage version?

Well, it's true that the plot is not exactly nail-biting. Following the Frake family on their annual visit to Iowa State Fair, it must be unique as a musical in turning on the prize-winning potential of a pig and a jar of mincemeat.

It' s therefore a pleasure to report that all the show's compensating qualities – unforced charm; poignant simplicity; the robustly good-humoured fun that it pokes at its own corny absurdities – are joyously conveyed in Thom Southerland's clever, witty and touching production. The verve and ingenuity of Sally Brooks's choreography entertainingly prove that it's possible to create, say, a rip-roaring hoedown (in "All I Owe Ioway") on a stage the size of a pocket handkerchief.

Laura Main brings a lovely, wistful yearning to the role of Margy, the daughter who falls for Stephen McGlynn's tap-dancing local reporter. Jodie Jacobs displays an attractive line in wise-cracking sass and underlying sadness as the touring chantoosie with whom the eager, naive son (Karl Clarkson) has a bittersweet fling.

But then Southerland's entire 14-strong cast crackles with likeable idiosyncrasy, from Philip Rham and Susan Travers who radiate an affecting, old-fashioned togetherness as the parents to Anthony Wise's ridiculously smarmy judge who gets tipsy on Ma's brandy-laced mincemeat. If the melodious, uneven score (performed to Magnus Gilljam's sparkling piano accompaniment) can't compete with the classics from the R&H canon, Southerland's winning take on State Fair is almost guaranteed to put a happy smile on your face.

To 28 August (0844 871 7632;