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Christmas cracker

Sweet Charity
Menier Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason
Soho

14 December 2009

12:00 AM

14 December 2009

12:00 AM

Sweet Charity
Menier

Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason
Soho


Shocking. Absolutely shocking. My state of preparedness for Sweet Charity at the Menier was so poor that we nearly had a critic-doesn’t-know-what-he’s-talking-about scandal on our hands. I’d never seen the show before. I’d missed the film version. I hadn’t the foggiest who the star, Tamzin Outhwaite, might be, although her name, with that funkily off-beat zed nestling provocatively in its midriff, had crossed my consciousness at some point. I arrived with no expectations whatever (though, of course, I’m quietly proud of the fact that musicals and soap actresses lie outside the daily scope of my intellect and its exacting preoccupations). And guess what? The show’s a blinder.

Gorgeous little Tamzin plays an escort girl with a heart of gold who longs to swap the sleazy glamour of New York for a life of suburban contentment. This production has truckloads of charisma. The headline song, ‘Hey, Big Spender’, is belted out with the thunderous zest of a Triumph Bonneville being kick-started by a tanked-up Hell’s Angel. The second-act show-stopper, ‘Rhythm of Life’, is a hilariously choreographed spoof of Hair. Ms Outhwaite beautifully embodies the diffident charm of the sexy popsicle adrift in the big bad world and Mark Umbers, a serious talent who deserves to go far, is terrific as her nerdy suitor. Super-sophisticated Josefina Gabrielle adds genuine pathos as the big-sister figure who knows she’ll never escape the coils of her profession. The most recent musical I saw at the Menier was La Cage aux Folles. I loathed every shrill, preening, half-witted, out-of-date minute of it. So it immediately transferred to the West End where it’s still running. This show, I adored. So catch it now before it closes.

To Soho for an off-beat sketch show. With new comedy, as with speed-dating, it takes only minutes to make a lifelong decision. Enter two Americans wearing pyjamas. ‘Flying makes me feel anxious,’ says one, ‘but with a frisson of danger. Like making love to a pregnant woman in a smoky bar.’ Mm, I’m still interested. ‘I speaka de broken English,’ says a foreigner in a travel routine. ‘Where you from?’ ‘Broken England.’ Mm, I’m getting restless. ‘Knock. Knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I’m not a banana.’ OK, I’m off. The chaps in pyjamas got an easier ride than they deserved because the press-night crowd was crammed with their drunken fans. So the theatre rocked with hysterical laughter thoughout. Now, then. If the show’s backers were unscrupulous they might select seven words from my penultimate sentence and blazon them across the billboard. I mention this because a plea for seasonal goodwill is in order.

Last month, when the Shawshank Redemption closed, a minor furore erupted over the producers’ misuse of a review. Charles Spencer, in the Telegraph, had rubbished the show but praised the film on which it was based and the sneaky promoters quoted his words so as to create the impression that he’d extolled their production. Westminster Council wasn’t impressed. Its trading-standards officer, Sue Jones, indicated that an explanation might be required. ‘If we are not satisfied,’ she said, ‘we will not hesitate to take further action.’ The maximum tariff for trading-standards offences is two years in jail. Two years! If you bought a ticket for Shawshank you might call that lenient. But the crime is not mounting the production but overselling it. And this isn’t the first time Westminster has made noises about sending inspectors to snoop on theatre billboards. We should be worried.

The trading-standards chaps have enough to do without wasting valuable clipboard time on Shaftesbury Avenue. Toys that explode in kiddies’ faces? Yes. Chainsaws that whop their owners’ heads off? Certainly. Theatres that indulge in salesmanship? No way. We shouldn’t allow elected officials to ban everyone but themselves from using spin. The new cadre of scrutineers, once established, would swiftly acquire all the bombastic trimmings of other bureaucracies. Each member of the Hype-Busting Squad would require a top-end videocam to record evidence. There’d be training awaydays, clothing allowances, self-defence classes, nutritional advice. Before long they’d want to formalise their profession with academies, codes of conduct and practising certificates. There’d be show trials where corrupt and negligent Hype-Busters were dramatically stripped of their rank, while on the other side of town the Hype-Buster of the Year Award would be presented to some proud killjoy at a million-pound Claridge’s bash. This mustn’t happen. Impresarios will always exaggerate. Punters will sometimes be duped. Reviewers’ words will very occasionally be traduced. An American critic once reported on an under-par Shakespeare production with the line, ‘Worse than ordinarily disappointing this show is superbad.’ A few days later he passed the theatre and spotted a billboard which attributed a selective snippet to his name: ‘Superb’.


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