Pins and Needles, Cock Tavern, London

Reviewed,Paul Taylor
Tuesday 23 November 2010 01:00
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For musical theatre buffs, Harold Rome's 1937 revue Pins and Needles is a name to conjure with because when they made a 25th anniversary album in 1962, several of the songs were performed by a young newcomer named Barbra Streisand. But this highly engaging UK premiere of the piece, presented in a version devised by its directors, Rachel Grunwald and Joseph Finlay, at the Cock Tavern, demonstrates that Pins and Needles has stronger claims on our attention than that.

This is the only long-running Broadway hit ever to have been written for, and performed by, a labour union – specifically the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union. It's a smart move to resurrect Pins and Needles now. A witty Depression-era revue that satirises New Deal-despising right-wing politicians, the greed of devious tax-dodgers, and union-bashing speaks directly to our own recession-hit times of savage government spending cuts and rising protest.

There are moments where the production, staged throughout with droll flair, makes the parallels overt. A cycle-helmeted Boris careers in to sing "It's Not Cricket to Picket". In one skit, a couple of Republicans who believe that "every American has the right to starve without interference from the Government" hit on the idea of "the Big Society" as an election slogan. But you also get a flavour of the era of the Federal Theatre Project and the WPA. The show manages to be both larky and passionate. For example, there's a sketch that sends up the condescending Brechtian notion that the theatre is a schoolroom in which everything must be solemnly spelt out for the slow-witted workers and a mischievous number "Sitting on Your Status Quo", which presents a rallying message about freedom as a sassily syncopated spoof history lesson (from Tom Paine to the present) that turns into a spirited liberty jive.

I don't see how Grundwald's delightful, idiosyncratic cast could perform the material better, whether revelling in the irreverent wackiness of "Four Little Angels of Peace" (a musical elimination game for fascist dictators) or capturing the poignancy of a song that asks "What Good Is Love?" when you have almost nothing to give. Recommended.

Paul Taylor

To 11 December 0844 477 1000

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