Jest End

Conceived by Garry Anthony Lake
Jermyn Street Theatre
(2009)

Production graphic

Having gone via the New Players Theatre and Leicester Square Theatre, Jest End is back at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

As is fairly apparent from the title, Jest End is a satirical look at the West End theatre; specifically musicals. Like Forbidden Broadway which recently finished a successful run at the Chocolate Factory, Jest End picks various musicals and pretty much tears them apart. However whereas Forbidden Broadway concentrates on parodying the contents of the show and the audience experience, Jest End also sheds light on what it is like to be a performer in the West End and the hoops they have to jump through for those much coveted roles.

Of course when poking fun at a show (especially one which is a success) it is crucial that it be done not just well, but even better than the original, otherwise it will fall completely flat. Fortunately Gareth Ellis’s orchestrations, combined with Garry Lakes hilarious lyrics are as complex as the scores they mimic.

These shows are never malicious in nature as only a true fan can rip something apart so effortlessly and of course the majority of the audience are there because they too know these shows inside out.

So what shows exactly do they leave in tatters? It would probably be easier to list those that they don’t attack. Very few are let off the hook and much is made of the West End’s recent submission to reality TV with “Re-al-it-y T-V” replacing the lyrics to Nancy’s “As Long As He Needs Me” whilst critical successes such as Spring Awakening are presented with early notices. Chris Thatcher as Cameron Macintosh sings of “reviving an adaptation” as a Fagan type rubbing his money grabbing hands together and there is great medley about the guaranteed success of a show with homosexuals/transsexuals/queens (or preferably all of them) these days.

With a new wig or random mask in hand the cast jump around the stage, relishing in taking on these roles. Looking at Laura Brydon’s headshot you wouldn’t have thought her the obvious choice for young Billy in Billy Elliot, Mary in Mary Poppins or as Mel C playing Mrs J in Blood Brothers and yet she is as convincing as a ten tear old boy from the North East as she is a practically perfect nanny. Jodi Jacobs is hilarious as Patina Miller in Sister Act (again not an obvious casting choice) and Stuart Matthew Price takes off Jason Donavon brilliantly in his dress made of flip flops and Chris Thatcher is unnervingly similar to Michael Ball in his tribute to the wonder that is .

There are two levels of humour to a show like this. On the one hand a pretty excellent knowledge of musical theatre is necessary to understand what it is they are parodying. Then there are the inside gags, illustrated in songs about the curse of Shaftsbury Theatre (which has since been lifted by Hairspray) or Elle Wood wanabees singing and speculating about who will land this role in Legally Blonde. If you do not work in the “industry” such moments may fly over your head but will not dilute your enjoyment of the show in anyway.

If you love musicals, love musical theatre gossip, love watching reality programmes about musicals and pretty much love all things musical theatre based then you will have a Best End time (oh, see what I did there?) If however, you have never seen a musical in your life then this might not be the show for you.

Playing until December 17th

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan