How would London’s hit musical of 1937 stand up to the scrutiny of supposedly more sophisticated late 20th century audiences? 20-odd years ago Richard Armitage, son of composer Noel Gay, took no chances and approached Stephen Fry to do a re-write of the book of Me and My Girl, also allowing him to appropriate other songs by Gay to boost the score for a successful revival.
The question now becomes, “How well does Fry’s 1985 version hold up in 2006?” It’s worth noting that in 1937 Me and My Girl had the comical eccentricities of Lupino Lane to fall back on, while programme photographs reveal the apparently effortless charm of Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson in 1985. Warren Carlyle’s touring production, originating at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, has neither of these resources.
The story is flimsy and predictable – not necessarily a drawback. East End barrowboy, Bill Snibson, is revealed as the heir to the Earldom of Hareford. He must, however, display his suitability for the peerage, unlikely in a fellow who thrives on rhyming slang and walking all over chaises longues. Will he claim his title or retire with an annuity? Will he marry his devoted fiancée, Sally, or the gold-digging Lady Jaqueline who is ready to throw over the impoverished Hon. Gerald Bolingbroke? Love, not surprisingly, finds a way.
At the end of Act 1 the show-stopping “Lambeth Walk” ensures a relatively cheerful interval drink, but in truth the proceedings have been no more than mildly diverting. Richard Frame (Bill) and Faye Tozer (Sally) work hard, but show little sign of the requisite charm. Only Sylvester McCoy (the family solicitor) and Russell Walker (the silly ass Gerald) give a hint of the insouciant silliness needed to keep the show afloat. Most of the songs are pretty forgettable, though McCoy’s set piece “Family Solicitor” is great fun.
After the interval things brighten up somewhat. A smart arrangement of one of the borrowings, “The Sun Has Got His Hat On”, launches proceedings with panache. Richard Frame hits his stride, sharing with Dillie Keane (the Duchess of Dene) a library scene that finally musters the style, comic business and sense of absurdity that have been lacking. Walt Spangler’s set, flexible, with the occasional hint of elegance, here comes wittily into its own.
Matthew Brind’s nine-piece orchestra manages a well-nourished sound and the 15-strong ensemble is admirably versatile and well-drilled in a production stronger on choreography than on comedy and characterisation.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield)