Carnaby Street

Carl Leighton-Pope
Carnaby Street Promotions Ltd in association with Hackney Empire
Opera House, Manchester

Verity Rushworth as Penny Lane in Carnaby Street
The cast of Carnaby Street

Despite all the warnings it was bound to happen.

The rogue showbusiness gene that annually creates at least one new jukebox musical has crossed over into the basic DNA of theatre—panto—to create the hybrid poptomime.

The result here is a show that obeys all the basic sequencing of both theatrical forms.

It’s colourful, tuneful, non-threatening and undemanding. Certainly its key characters are instantly interchangeable with those of any Christmas entertainment.

There’s Jack the Lad (Aaron Sidwell), a none-too-bright Buttons; his more gifted protégé Jude (Matthew Wycliffe), who courts and eventually wins his Fairy Princess Lady Jane (Tricia Adele-Turner); even your classic panto villain in pop baron Arnold (Hugo Harold-Harrison). Boo, hiss etc!

And it’s not stretching the metaphor too far to see Verity Rushworth as Dandini, or certainly Paul Hazel as the panto dame, stretched into vivid lycra.

The show’s writer/producer Carl Leighton-Pope claims to have taken 16 years to write it all, which suggests it was one of those jobs you keep putting off. Director Bob Tomson and designer Matthew Wright were the men behind Dreamboats and Petticoats and this show follows the same formula, if not the same song list.

So, as always, it is the contemporary 60s music that saves it all, coupled with the usual energy that their multi-talented casts bring to the occasion.

The story is pretty incidental—busker down from Liverpool finds fame, fortune and eventually himself, after being caught up in a theatrical approximation of Swinging 60s London.

There are knowing gags, along the lines of ‘If only we knew then what we know now’ concerning the likes of the Press, Banks, the Price of Coffee and the Dangers of Cigarettes.

Carnaby Street knows its audience; they know all the songs—at times it comes perilously close to a scrolled-down songsheet; and you just know it can all do no harm.

Reviewer: David Upton