Sandy Wilson’s 1920s musical comedy The Boy Friend is revived at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, where it opened on Thursday (20 July 2006) and continues in rep until 9 September 2006 (See News, 23 Jan 2006).
Set in 1926 at Mme Dubonnet's fashionable finishing school on the French Riviera, Wilson’s musical revolves around Polly, a millionaire's daughter, who falls in love with delivery boy Tony. To hold his interest, Polly pretends to be a working girl, but her efforts are complicated by her boy crazy girlfriends. Open Air artistic director Ian Talbot directs a cast that includes Steven Pacey, Summer Strallen, Joshua Dallas and, as Polly, Rachel Jerram.
Overnight critics enjoyed the “ripping” antics of the characters in Wilson’s quaint musical and found Bill Deamer’s choreography in particular impressive and uplifting. However, some felt that, although the cast are top-notch and Talbot’s production doesn’t spill over into ironic pastiche, the show remains a little too old-fashioned.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com – “There are few places in London more ideal for a summer night’s entertainment than the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, and Ian Talbot’s tight, taut and affectionate revival of Sandy Wilson’s imperishable musical comedy is one of the finest productions in its history…. Although The Boy Friend is itself a teasing parody of a certain kind of fluffy 1920s musical, it’s also a work of real charm and distinction in its own right…. The musical is timeless because of its Swiss watch precision and perfect, almost ruthless, construction…. In Rachel Jerram as Polly, the Park has revealed a genuine new talent, fresh out of drama school…. Bill Deamer’s choreography doesn’t miss a trick while managing to be vivacious and new-minted…. The magical charm of the show is captivatingly summed up by Talbot’s reminder that ‘It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love.’”
Kieron Quirke in the Evening Standard - “The Open Air Theatre's delicious production of Sandy Wilson's homage to the Twenties is a no-brainer, a gorgeous fantasy that demands you suspend meaningful thought while your heart claps along to its syncopated rhythms…. The plot swings into action, only to be happily resolved before any real problem has been encountered…. Wilson's songs ring out with the simple freshness of the breeze you currently wish would come through your window at nights. Rachel Jerram as Polly and Joshua Dallas as her beau Tony are sweet and endearing. But it's the secondary romances that carry the day. Summer Strallen, as the flirt Maisie, has the worldly yet proper enthusiasm of a girl who plans to relish each tiny step on the way to her wedding night. Steven Pacey as Polly's dad is a delightfully subtle prude, his English reserve gently melting in the heat of the Riviera…. The dancing is great, the arrangements bright and clear, and to maximise the pleasure of being out in the summer evening, the theatre emulates the opera with not one but two very civilised intervals. A divine evening.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian - “Its appeal, I suspect, lies in the way it recreates the tone and style of 1920s musicals with a sophisticated innocence; neither camp nor knowing, it needs to be played, as Ian Talbot's Regent's Park revival proves, with genuine affection for the period. Its plot is dutifully daffy…. Wilson's music and lyrics capture perfectly the flavour of the 1920s…. The dance numbers… give the show an extra charge. Bill Deamer's choreography covers everything from tangos to tap…. The extraordinary Summer Strallen… combines period pertness with some of the highest kicks you could ever wish to see - her legs achieve the perpendicular splendour of the Eiffel Tower. If I have any gripe, it is that amplification distorts perspective…. Rachel Jerram and Joshua Dallas as the young lovers admirably avoid archness and look as if they might have stepped straight out of an illustrated magazine of the 1920s.”
Ian Johns in The Times - “You’ve really got to be in the right mood for a show that mocks musical conventions that no one now remembers. They seem even more bizarre as they grow more remote: the daft plotting and pop-eyed reactions, the genteel vowels and ripping slang. Talbot’s production, evoking the French Riviera through blue and green parasols and sandcastle cityscapes, gives it the right type of sunny disposition, not overplaying the silliness so we don’t end up with a pastiche of a pastiche…. Wilson’s mock-romantic libretto and cleverly rhymed songs remain a delight. Making her professional debut as Polly, Rachel Jerram has lungs that could almost drown out a passing helicopter without losing her sweetness…. Yet all the young suitors are a bit bland, which means there’s little chemistry among the younger roles. That’s probably why the older characters, such as Anna Nicholas’ Madame Dubonnet, rekindling an old romance with Polly’s father (Steven Pacey, nicely loosening his stuffed-shirtiness), tend to steal the show.”
- by Caroline Ansdell