Me and My Girl
Book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, revised by Stephen Fry, music by Noel Gay
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Me and My Girl is a delightful, fun, winter warming, crowd pleaser, an excellent choice for the Crucible's Christmas season musical.
First performed in 1937 with book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, and music by the hugely popular composer Noel Gay, it has rarely been revived. This version, with a script revised by Stephen Fry in 1984, remains faithful to the music hall tradition from which it emerged, while the language and jokes feel comfortably modern.
While many of the songs are familiar to the immediately post-war generation, who presumably heard them sung by their parents or on what was then called the 'wireless', youngsters in the audience (quick straw poll) did not know popular favourites like 'The Lambeth Walk' and 'Leaning on a Lamppost' though they had come across 'The Sun Has Got His Hat On' which was often cheerfully rendered on Play School. This did not seem to matter at all. No-one in the audience could fail to be entranced by the charm and toe-tapping rhythm of the music, particularly when performed with such verve and energy by the excellent small band (Musical Director Jae Alexander) and the multi-talented cast.
The production is visually sumptuous. Designer Peter McKintosh has created an attractive and endlessly adaptable set, which occupies the deep upstage area of the Crucible stage and provides an important sounding board for the singing. It is exciting to see the recently renovated technical resources of the theatre, including notably the understage lifts and traps and the fly space, being used so inventively and to such good effect. The many costumes are a treat to the eye, ranging from formal ball gowns, to beach and leisure wear, Pearly King and Queen outfits, and stunningly, a historical sweep of ghost costumes from the Elizabethan period onwards. My favourite costume was a huge red investiture cloak with a 'vermin' collar which was used in a tour de force sequence of remarkable, pantomimic inventiveness.
In an interesting programme interview, director Ann Mackmin (this is her first musical) talks about what drew her to the production. She was interested in the underlying themes of the play, 'Family, ancestry, class, fate and love subtle themes (that) keep reasserting themselves, like a tightly wound thread'. These underlie, 'the delicious silliness of the comedy'. So, what we have here is a love story with a happy ending, played out against a background of class differences, aspiration and class loyalty.
Mackmin also talks about the 'great tradition from which this musical stems music hall and vaudeville. The old vaudevillians had finely honed techniques, making their performances seem effortless and blissfully inventive - a potent combination.'
The key to this huge, complex, witty production, which pervades the choreography, acting, comic business and scenic effects is coherent and joyful inventiveness.
Stephen Mears' superb choreography, brilliantly delivered by an ensemble of talented singer-dancers, is a sheer delight. A sequence of first half set pieces culminates in a rousing interpretation of 'The Lambeth Walk', rapturously received by an audience of musical theatre enthusiasts who had braved the icy conditions to attend. Further pleasures enhance the second half.
Among the principals, Daniel Crossley, as the cheeky cockney chappie (convincingly perpetuating the vaudeville tradition), and Jemima Rooper as his bride-to-be give highly energetic and entertaining performances. It is a pleasure to see Miriam Margolyes on stage holding the fort as a strong and convincing Duchess of Dene. John Conroy gives an understated and perfectly timed song and dance rendition of the show's most amusing number 'The Family Solicitor'. And Josefina Gabrielle is a delight to watch for her perfect timing in comedy sequences and her lithe and expressive dancing. There isn't a weak link in this outstanding and talented cast.
Me and My Girl is the perfect antidote to wintry weather, a cheerful, colourful show, full of wit, fun and invention. Not to be missed.
'Me and My Girl' continues at the Crucible until 29 January.
Reviewer: Velda Harris