Theatre: How much is that dodgy innuendo?

A SAINT SHE AIN'T APOLLO THEATRE LONDON
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The Independent Culture
AT THE opening of this West End transfer of A Saint She Ain't, my guest and I found that we'd parked ourselves in the seats reserved for the delectable Twiggy, now 50 years young, and her imposing spouse, Leigh Lawson. And for about the first quarter of an hour of this spoof of wartime, sailors-on-leave-style Hollywood musicals, I reckoned that vacating our places for that starry duo was going to be pretty much the most exciting event of my evening.

The piece - which boasts a book and nifty lyrics by Dick Vosburgh and music, sparklingly played on two grand pianos, by Denis King - reaped rave notices when it began life last May at north London's King's Head. Ned Sherrin quipped in these pages that the big difference with the transfer is that in the West End you at least face the stage. At the King's Head, you are propped up at a 90-degree angle to it, your paunch wedged against the table on which you have just consumed dependably rubber chicken. But one thing you forfeit even in a Shaftesbury Avenue venue as small as the Apollo is the atmosphere of supper-club intimacy in which this sort of amiable in-jokey material thrives.

No one could accuse this reviewer of an insusceptibility to camp, but watching Brian Greene's embarrassingly feeble take-off of Jimmy Durante, Barry Cryer's leaden impersonation of WC Fields and Pauline Daniels's loudly appreciated, yet crudely uninspired version of Mae West, I envied those of my colleagues who had seen the show in its original, less exposed environment where a certain good-natured badness can be part of the charm. Ms Daniels, for example, is given some terrific lines that Mae would surely have got round to delivering if she'd lived long enough. Her definition of a late breakfast, say, is "a roll in bed with a little honey", and she also gets to sing the climactic song - "The Banana for my Pie", a long, lewd litany of not-so-double entendres ("You're the organ for my church" etc), which will be the wedge for the thin end (so to speak) for any visiting puritans. But her performance is so piled on with wig patting, wiggling mannerisms that it quite misses what makes Mae West hilarious: the sleepy, languorous insolence of the woman.

There are notable compensations. Some of the songs and gags are such spot-on parodies that the original artistes must be looking down from the great Hollywood Canteen in the sky with frustration that they never had Vosburgh and King on the payroll.

As the flimsy plot of mistaken infidelities unfold, Ned Sherrin's production offers a number of treats: among them, a charmingly funny "flashback" tap duet performed by Rae Baker and Gavin Lee and, best of all, the sovereign contributions from Corinna Powlesland in the Martha Raye-type role. All teeth, vibrant holler and a sweater marked V for virginity ("It's a very old sweater"), she pitches the material to perfection - as when she objects to the WC Fields character being called two-faced. "Oh come on," she rasps, "if he had two faces, would he be wearing that one?"

Booking to 29 Jan (0171-494 5070)

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

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