All the Fun of the Fair
Music and Lyrics by David Essex, Book by Jon Conway
At the opening night of this David Essex jukebox musical, as well as the Rices, Sir Tim and Anneka, and Queen guitarist Brian May, the event was graced by a couple of EastEnders stars. They should have felt at home, as Jon Conway's book could have been half-inched straight from the soap.
All the Fun of the Fair was originally the title of an Essex album 35 years ago. This new stage incarnation is set at Levi and Sons travelling funfair in a period that could be anywhere from 1970 or even earlier to the present day.
There, a standard series of love affairs run into hot water for assorted reasons, building to a mildly dramatic finale on a deadly Wall of Death.
Without too much effort, the star's back catalogue has been strung together to support the wafer thin story, with edgy songs like Dangerous and Street Fight adding an element of dark glamour to an otherwise under-powered evening.
David Essex, now a gravelly-throated 62 year old, is heavily tattooed Levi, a widower who lost his beloved wife on the Wall, which as a result entered an early retirement. The business is going the same way, to such an extent that newcomer Michael Pickering as Levi's son Jack takes the novel decision to run away from the fair.
To be fair (pun absolutely intended) the lad has his eyes firmly set on blonde Alice, a cutie played by Nicola Brazil, who must struggle with quick changes, so tight are her trousers.
The burgeoning affair pleases nobody. Alice's Dad, rough diamond 'Arvey, played by Christopher Timothy a long way from All Creatures Great and Small, wants something better for his girl. His Neanderthal sidekick Druid (Cameron Jack) fancies the boss's daughter and will do whatever is necessary to keep her from Jack's clutches.
Back at the fair, Irish Gypsy Rosa, who has her own problems but is played by the pick of the female singers, Louise English, sees the future but still suffers for her daughter Mary (Susan Hallam-Wright), who worships Jack. Even Slow Jonny, an orphan with learning difficulties played by Tim Newman, whose singing and character acting suggest that a starring role may be around the corner, dotes on young Jack.
This messy state of affairs, like Romeo and Juliet, must resolve itself in bloodshed. On this occasion, it is short odds who will become the ghostly biker in the Silver Dream Machine sequence that ends the unusually short evening, coming in at only around 1¾ hours including interval.
None of this matters, as the whole purpose of All the Fun of the Fair is to showcase a man who has achieved legendary status. Ladies of a wide variety of "certain ages" will remember David Essex in the films That'll Be the Day and Stardust, on stage playing Jesus in Godspell and Che in Evita or starring on Top of the Pops from the early 70s onwards.
For them, even with silver hair, their idol still represents a remembrance of things past that will be worth every penny of the ticket price. When he sings memorable hits like Rock On or Gonna Make You a Star, A Winter's Tale, Silver Dream Machine or the oft repeated It's Gonna Be Alright, they will go into ecstasy, even if some of the arrangements are much more laid back than in the good old days.
For the rest of us, the experience may be less earth-shattering and, for those who liked the music, a David Essex gig or CD might be a better bet.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher