Cliff The Musical, Prince of Wales Theatre, London

The high point is pants

Rhoda Koenig
Wednesday 19 March 2003 01:00

"This isn't Shakespeare – it's an audience-pleaser," the press agent for Cliff The Musical pointed out, drawing a rather harsh cultural distinction. But there are audiences and audiences, a fact rarely truer than at any Cliff Richard-related event. The first three rows started clapping before the curtain rose and, during the show, swayed 45 degrees left and right, and roared at such jokes as "I think I've wet meself!" (not uttered by Cliff, but by a fan overcome at meeting him). Meanwhile, the rest of the house (I turned round several times) looked distinctly unenthusiastic.

If I remained in the impassive sector, it was out of dislike not of the bachelor boy himself, but of the cheap and lazy exploitation of his oeuvre that goes on here. Cliff is not so much a book show as a concert with jokes (as when Cliff confuses the words "celebrate" and "celibate"). It is performed to the loud and harsh accompaniment of a few machines on a set that looks like a built-up version of the one used for The Weakest Link.

Under deep-blue lights and strips of metal, four chaps, representing our hero at various ages, sing the songs that those front rows know by heart. Newcomers to the Cliff cult, however, will have no chance to learn them – in the opener, the only words I could make out were "rock'n'roll," and even that involved a bit of guesswork. This despite the singer's wearing, like all the Cliffs, a mike that curved halfway round his head to his lips, and rather undermined, with its resemblance to hospital apparatus, the oldest Cliff's claim to eternal springtime. (The show's story is told in flashback from 2020, with an 80-year-old Lord Cliff, in Bermuda shorts, still swinging his tennis racquet.)

Cliff mark four is the only successful impersonator in the bunch. Young, quiffed Cliff looks not so much cool as bored, though when he bent his knees nearly to the floor and regained the vertical without using his hands, the first three rows shrieked, perhaps excited at being reminded of when they could have done the same. Cliffs two and three are negligible, and all look about as much like Cliff Richard as I do. Mike Read bears a reasonable resemblance to the ever-young one, and his restrained manner suggests that this sexagenarian is conserving his energy rather than wondering what to have for supper. Like the other Cliff clones, however, his singing style owes less to nonchalance than to narcolepsy.

The show, written by Read and Trevor Payne and directed by the latter, begins, like Cliff's autobiography, with his first recording contract, and presents him as even blander and more opaque than he really is. The stinginess of wit in the writing is paralleled by that of the choreography – a performer lifts a foot and puts it down again in exactly the same place – but the show clearly has an unusually large budget for underwear. In the final number, each Cliff tosses a pair of unworn white boxer shorts to the screaming crowd – a moment that not only ends but sums up Cliff The Musical.

To 10 May (020-7839 5972)

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