Me and My Girl
Book and Lyrics by Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber; music by Noel Gay
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring
The original production of Me and My Girl opened in December 1937, starring Lupino Lane, and ran for an amazing 1,646 performances, while its British revival in 1985 clocked up an even more astounding 3,303.
It was Gays son, Richard Armitage, who revived it in the eighties, and now it is grandson Alex who is producing this version with revisions and additions by Stephen Fry. I remember seeing the earlier version (no, not in 1937!) with Robert Lindsay and a young and then unknown Emma Thompson, and, aside from the huge enjoyment of a very exuberant and exciting production, my abiding memory is of the cast standing amazed and almost bewildered by the ecstatic reception from an audience on its feet cheering and calling for more. So what is the secret of its appeal - rags-to-riches Cinderella story, with a rough and ready Cockney boy suddenly finding himself inheriting a vast fortune, melting the stony hearts of the haughty aristocracy, yet still remaining true to his first love? According to Stephen Fry the musical was gloriously old-fashioned from the beginning therefore will never date, and the catchy tunes with their deliciously silly and repetitive lyrics make you want to get up and dance or even just shout Oi in the appropriate places. Many in the audience did just that!
This time around they seem to be trying too hard to create their characters, resulting almost in caricatures. Perhaps well loved and well known music hall star Lupino Lane could act up some nonsense, but Richard Frames interpretation lacks charm. Despite working his socks off this is not a character one could warm to, although his manipulation of his enormous red cloak and the antics with a polar bear rug were moments of real hilarity, and his quick-fire one-liners hit the mark. Faye Tozer as Sally, the love of his life, is sweetly pretty, and sings beautifully as you would expect from a girl with eighteen top ten hits under her belt. Her accent convinces both as Cockney girl and then as a well-tutored Eliza Doolittle, but sadly there is little chemistry between her and Frame.
The supporting roles fare better. Dillie Keane is magnificently droll as the haughty old Duchess, reminding me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland as she sweeps in, and her expressions leave you in no doubt as to her opinion of anything she considers beneath her. Toffee-nosed is the term which springs to mind, but far from rejecting this lower class barrow-boy, she believes he can be brought up to scratch. He is after all one of her family blood will out.
The Hon. Gerald is played as a gloriously silly upper class twit by Russell Walker a cross between Brian Rix and Ian Carmichael - his long-legged lope across the stage comical even before he speaks, and his mercenary girl friend Lady Jaqueline is a lithe, svelte and athletically beautiful dancer with a stunning figure and a shimmy which could shake off her knickers. This hasnt happened yet so far as I know!
There are frequent and slick changes of Walt Spanglers stylish sets, the scene in the library bringing forth the Ancestors from their portraits to impress on Bill the importance of his inheritance, and where Trevor Bannister (Mr. Lucas from Are You Being Served?) impresses with his gravel-voiced well-refreshed drunk giving Bill good advice about love.
Sylvestor McCoy enjoys and is enjoyable as the family solicitor, Parchester, and Charles Millham is a nicely understated and deadpan butler.
Most of the songs are well known and well loved from the title Me and My Girl, the silly The Sun has got his Hat On, George Formbys hit Leaning on a Lamppost to the poignant Once you Lose Your Heart, and who could fail to be uplifted by the finale with the whole cast singing, dancing and playing the spoons to the famous Lambeth Walk? In spite of my earlier comments, its still a great show.
Touring to Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Brighton, Stoke, Bristol, Glasgow, Birmingham, Newcastle, Wimbledon.
This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor