Is there a market for adult fairy stories? Fans of Wicked would doubtless answer with a resounding yes. But it’s a question that’s posed anew at the King’s Head during the opening scenes of Ian McFarlane’s new musical Betwixt!, a fun-packed, cliché-ridden romp through a fairytale land of evil seductresses, betrothed princes, fairy nymphs and some very catchy little songs as well.
Bailey Howard is a writer who’s severely blocked. His follow-up to a best-selling first novel is currently an empty notebook, and his agent is arranging press conferences around the clock. To make it worse, his girlfriend (How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’s strong-voiced Abi Finley) has lost faith in his dream of making it big in the big city and has deserted him, making way for the camp and enthusiastic Cooper Fitzgerald to move in as a lodger and help with the rent. Together, strangely enough, Cooper and Bailey find a key and a locked door and travel through it to a place where the arrival of a hero and his Queen has been long awaited.
The King’s Head has an excellent reputation for identifying new musical talent and it seems there’s no end to its knack of sourcing talented young performers of the highest calibre. Here, Stephen Fletcher does a particularly sterling job as the goofy New York writer turned hero Bailey, and author Ian McFarlane provides fantastic support as the super camp Queen. Amongst the ensemble, a tendency to ham it up is quickly forgiven due to the frolicking nature of the piece, and the impeccable Mark Inscoe lights up the stage with his confident take on the exhibitionist and theatre troop leader The Great Garbo.
Betwixt! is unafraid to launch headlong into the realm of magic and enchantment. And it succeeds due to the strength of the cast, Kate Golledge’s miraculous direction and use of space, and the surprising strength of a book and lyrics that will stick in your head and send you hurtling to the box office to request a CD. But in the end, your take on it will probably depend on whether you’re in the market for fairy tales. Because a fairy tale, with all their chief traits, is just what it is: uplifting, full of clichés, determined not to take itself too seriously, and omitting a strong whiff of cheese.