At a time when putting on a West End musical is almost as terminal as not paying your Access bill, and when Grand Hotel closes after four months despite its rave reviews, Radio Times at the Queen's Theatre appears to be beating the recession and confusing the critics who predicted its early demise. It opened on 15 October and is still going strong, playing to packed houses consisting not only of blue rinsers singing along in the stalls, but also young trendies.
Slattery plays Sammy Shaw, scriptwriter and star of a long-running wartime wireless show, Variety Bandwagon. It is 1941, during the Blitz, and the cast is preparing a special live broadcast. Packed with smutty innuendo, slick dance numbers and two dozen old Noel Gay songs, the show includes such jolly ditties as Run Rabbit Run and Who's Been Polishing Up The Sun?
The plot is, to say the least, uncomplex. Slattery's character is at loggerheads with a censorious new producer who tells him to clean up his act. He is also in serious danger of losing his babe to a visiting Hollywood movie star. But there are glamorous stunts to hold the audience's attention. At the end of the first act the stage spins round to reveal a new set and the audience is required to participate, responding to applause cards and running to the bar for shelter during the interval, as the show closes down for an air raid. In the tradition of musicals, it all ends on a jolly note.
In the foyer during the break for German bombing, drinking a glass of orange juice, was Sonya, aged 24, from Germany. She was in London on holiday and had read about the show. 'I'm enjoying the music and I find it quite entertaining. It is interesting to see what happened here during the Blitz. They have turned it to the stage very well.'
Wendy, 29, from London, was already a Slattery fan. 'When I heard he was in it I really wanted to see it. It was slow to start, but it got really good by the end of the first half.'
Nigel and Georgina, from London, were drinking champagne in the stalls bar with some friends from Spain. Being born a good 15 years after the Blitz wasn't stopping them enjoying the show. 'Our friends actually chose it, but although it started slowly it is getting a lot better. I think the songs are great,' said Nigel.
Pam, who works for Waitrose in Barnet, was having a cigarette by the foyer. She did remember the Blitz: she was 15 at the time. 'It's all very realistic,' she said. 'With all the bombs dropping and all the sound effects, it makes me feel quite strange. I don't really remember the songs from when I was a child, although I do know some of them.' She turned to her friend from work. 'What do you think?' 'Rather good,' the friend said, leaning on a long silver ashtray. 'I'm looking forward to the next half.'
The cast had clear ideas about the show's popularity and the diversity of the audience. 'People leave the theatre happier than when they arrived,' said Slattery. 'The reason for the success is simple. People are just dying to be made to laugh.'
'I think it's because we are all up against the wall at the moment with the recession, and the show has got that pulling-together feeling that we all desperately need,' said Linda-May Brewer, one of the Grosvenors, the six-part harmony group that forms the backbone of Variety Bandwagon. 'Wartime and the Blitz is nostalgic, not just for the older people. All you have to do is look at the retrospective fashions around to realise that the young are interested. That period does actually mean something to people, no matter what age. We are all in this recession, just as we were all in the war, and there is that same feeling of camaraderie.'
Tamsin Outhwaite, another of the Grosvenors, agreed: 'It's very like the times we live in. There are bombs in the show and bombs on the streets of London - we keep hearing sirens go off here in the evening.'
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content