Soul Train at the Victoria Palace
Arriving at a platform near Victoria Station, Soul Train is the latest two carriage vehicle to arrive in London with a cargo of already familiar songs to entice the coach and office party crowd into the theatre for a summer night's boogie.
More an excuse to party than a properly structured musical, this ragbag collection of soul classics is designed with one purpose in mind - to get the audience clapping, shouting, waving their hands in the air and dancing in the aisles. In short, it seeks active participation rather than mere passive observation; it demands total surrender.
Which isn't hard to do, in the presence of such an able cast and such pleasant songs. But it's also unbelievably lazy: there's nothing here to tax the intellect of the audience, or the imagination of its creators. The latter have simply stapled things together around songs which everyone knows and which some already love and want to hear again, with no semblance of plot to be troubled by, as yesteryear's hits are recycled to provide instant nostalgia.
The endless traffic in compilation musicals is something of a West End phenomenon (still to come this summer: a 70s revue, Oh What a Night, at the Apollo Hammersmith; 4 Steps to Heaven, featuring the songs of Elvis, Buddy Holly and others at the Piccadilly; and a Jerry Lee Lewis celebration, Great Balls of Fire, soon at the Cambridge). Of its kind, Soul Train is fast-paced and slickly presented, yet at the same time shambolic. There's no time to tire of one number before you're on to the next. It's also noisy, raucous and entirely vacuous, with no context, rhyme or reason to the hit parade it catalogues, though plenty of rhythm.
As devised by the director, Mark Clements, with Michael Vivian, Soul Train embraces everything from gospel to Three Degrees pop, the latter put in no doubt because of the presence in the cast of one of the eponymous trio, Sheila Ferguson. There's no faulting the mostly terrific cast that is fielded for the purpose: watch out, in particular, for the vivacious charms of Melanie E Marshall. But they're put to the service of a show that is busily choreographed (by Stephen Mear) to within an inch of its frantic life and, in the end, with the audience constantly urged out of their seats, cheerfully chaotic. The result is a harmless night in the theatre, but also a rather pointless one.