Theatre review: Bonnie & Clyde the musical is plodding and tedious


They were the first celebrity outlaws – folk-heroes in Depression-era America – and, as portrayed by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn's seminal 1967 movie, they were fame-hungry killers who deludedly saw themselves as screen stars. 

In this new musical version of the Bonnie and Clyde story, there's one sharp song about how the press cashed in on their escapades in a relationship of mutual exploitation (“They don't know that killing kills/But the papers know that killing sells”) and the production makes eloquent use of contemporary photographs of the lovers in jokily provocative, self-glamorising poses, cleverly interspersed with similar mocked-up images of the actors here impersonating them. We first see Samantha Louise Clark's Bonnie fantasising about film stardom and bewailing the fact that studio scouts don't come to Cement City. She eventually gets her wish, albeit in newsreels as a notorious gangster's moll. If only, one feels, she'd had America's Got Talent to audition for. 

For the most part, though, the creators of this Ruby in the Dust show – which is directed by Linnie Reedman, who wrote the book, with music and lyrics by Joe Evans – have pulled off the considerable feat of making their version of the saga feel plodding and tedious. The fact that the hold-ups, shoot-outs and scrambling get-aways have to take place offstage leaves you wondering about the general wisdom of trying to turn road-movie material into chamber theatre. But that lack would be less important if there were some compensatory humour and bite in the scenes that show the strained, bickering, ignominious reality of life on the run. Where the Penn movie stresses the queasily comic disparity between the actual circumstances and the legend, Evans's anodyne ballads and Reedman's dreary script largely put the accent on the melodrama and the pathos of being embarked on a process that offers “No Way Back”.

It doesn't help that there's scant erotic chemistry between Clark's captivating, if strenuously Southern-accented Bonnie and Tom Sword's sax-playing, stubbornly uncharismatic Clyde. The possibility that the latter was driven to murderous crime by the brutal sexual abuse he suffered while in prison is floated and left undeveloped. The best performances come from Emma-Jane Martin who is vividly glowering and acrid as Blanche, the sister-in-law at loggerheads with Clyde for corrupting his supposedly reformed brother, and Christopher Burr who congeals hauntingly from a thrill-seeking 16 year old recruit to a lost soul who can shoot a cop and laugh appreciatively when the head bounces up and down on the road.

To September 21; 0207 478 0160

Bonnie & Clyde - Tom Sword & Samantha Louise Clark