These are strange times for Chichester. The theatre is experiencing a rich run of success with London transfers aplenty and a regular spot at awards nights and yet, in the middle of this golden period, the main theatre is closing down for a year.
So, in a pared down season, there are only five new productions, no easy place to hide a dud then. Happily, The Pajama Game is in keeping with CFT's recent musicals and if doesn't quite have the heft of previous productions, it's still energetically staged, with some decent numbers and neat comic touches.
The story is ludicrous even by the standards of Broadway musicals, while the pajama factory boss with his diatribes against unions, communists and foreigners is far too much of a caricature. Modern audiences may find the power of the union rather strange - it's hard to imagine now that small disputes could quickly lead to industrial action.
The central premise is that a love affair between a union organiser and a manager runs into difficulties during a period of workplace strife - culminating in a slow down. That this would have an effect on their relationship would seem obvious to everyone but seems to shock them to the core.
Hadley Fraser and Joanna Riding play the central pair, Sid and Babe, the lovers across the industrial divide. Fraser starts off hesitantly but quickly finds his feet, his smooth tenor doing justice to Richard Adler and Jerry Ross-written ballads "Hey There" and "Small Talk". Riding captures the sparkiness of a union organizer and sings well enough but they're a curiously unromantic couple, with little real spark. You feel that their union is going through a slow down of its own.
There are far brighter performances: Peter Polycarpou as jealous, knife-throwing time and motion man Hines, and Claire Machin as a sardonic secretary provide most of the comedy; their number together "I'll Never Be Jealous Again" is the standout song of the first act. Alexis Owen-Hobbs as Glady, the object of Hines' affections is also strong - her whimpering sobs after being admonished by her boss is one of the comic highlights. Praise too for Colin Stinton as the grasping boss and Babe's amiable and socially inept father.
The show is briskly directed by Richard Eyre and snappily choreographed by Stephen Mear. Chichester seems to have developed a production line of its own when it comes to musicals and The Pajama Game is, on the whole, a fine addition to its list of recent successes.
- Maxwell Cooter