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The Drowsy Chaperone

Music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
(2010)

The Drowsy Chaperone production photo by Lucy Young

Under Racky Plews' direction this spoof of a late 1920s musical is given a lively revival that does credit to this Highgate theatre. Set on the wedding day of a Broadway star the plot about keeping groom from seeing the bride and the marriage being called off may be pretty obvious but that's not important for it is the numbers and the format within which they are presented that make this show. We don't sit through the whole of the musical, we just get the best bits, as recorded on the show album, played by a passionate enthusiast on his radiogram.

Man in the Chair (he isn't even given a name) is the framing for the show, sitting in the dark playing his LP and explaining its high points to us. Matthew Lloyd Davies makes him a real geek and the production places him and his record player bang in the centre of things. Everything happens around him as the musical's characters come to life in his living room and kitchen. The intimacy of this theatre not only supports his contact with the audience but, with the actors almost in your lap, sometimes directly interacting with individuals, this really becomes a thing spirited up in the imagination not a show up there on a stage.

Pop, rap and grunge it isn't, nor some rock band's song book given a stage format. It's a show for those who love old musicals, good tunes and lively dancing, a show-biz romance from the days before Oklahoma and West Side Story.

The Drowsy Chaperone began life as an entertainment as a wedding present for two members of Toronto's Second City concert troupe, put together by their mates, and here it still has that personal directness and exuberance as well as clever choreography from Fabian Aloise, an enthusiastic company and some strong voices. Its delicious send-up is delivered with great affection and skilful timing.

The title character, the tippling chaperone, isn't the lead - that's part of the joke - but that doesn't stop Siobhan McCarthy from grabbing a big share of the limelight with a suitably big performance, especially when paired with the ageing European stage Lothario Adolpho (Michael Howe). As the wedding couple Amy Diamond is a gorgeously high-kicking Janet (in some lovely frocks) and Ashley Day a suitably smug good-looking Robert who bursts into action in a lively tap routine, but this is essentially an ensemble show with a double act in Joe Parsons and Will Stokes' Mafia men, a camply proper butler from Ted Merwood, Graham Lappin's theatrical producer, Tanya Robb unbelievable high-pitched as squeaky dumb blonde Kitty and Ursula Mohan as the prohibition busting hostess.

Designer Martin Thomas gets his effects through the clever use of simple means but that doesn't stop him calling on multimedia techniques with the wittiest incorporation of video for Sophia Nomvete's rich-voiced Trix which manages to send up current theatre fashions as well as 1920s ones, and he does a lovely job in mounting the hilariously exotic oriental number (from a different show) that gets put on by mistake.

Run ends 31st October 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton