First Night: Lacklustre Mae misses the point

A Saint She Ain't Apollo Theatre London
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The Independent Online
AT THE opening last night of the 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.

For about the first quarter of an hour of this spoof of sailors-on-leave wartime Hollywood musicals, I thought shifting places for this starry duo was going to be just about the most exciting event of my evening.

The piece - with the book and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh and music by Denis King - reaped praise when it began life last May at the King's Head. The director, Ned Sherrin, has quipped in these pages that the big difference in the West End is that you sit facing the stage: at the King's Head you're at a 45-degree angle to it, your paunch painfully wedged against the table on which you have just consumed some 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.

Watching Brian Greene's lacklustre take-off of Jimmy Durante, Barry Cryer's leaden WC Fields imitation, and Pauline Daniels' wig-patting, adulated but completely uninspired evocation of Mae West, I envied colleagues who saw the show in its original environment. Daniels, for example, is given some great lines which Mae would surely have got around to delivering if she'd lived long enough: this character's definition of a late breakfast is "a roll in bed with a little honey" and she also gets the climactic song, "The Banana For My Pie" (along the lines of "You're The Joystick for my Plane/The swizzle stick for my champagne"), which will be the wedge for the thin end, so to speak, of any visiting Puritan.

But Daniels' performance is so busy with 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 so spot-on that the original artistes must be looking down from the great Hollywood Canteen in the sky and spitting with frustration that they never have this couple on their payroll. Either that, or they've been slipping them tips via a ouija board.

As the flimsy pot of mistaken infidelities unfold, Sherrin's production offers a number of treats, including a charming "flashback" tap duet between Rae Baker and Gavin Lee and, best of all, the contributions from Corinna Powlesland, who, all teeth, spunkiness and a sweater marked "V" for virginity ("it's a very old sweater") pitches the material to perfection - as when she objects to the Fields character being called two-faced. "Oh come on," she rasps, "if he had two faces, would he be wearing that one?"