Originally written and performed by members of Toronto’s Second City as a wedding present for two of their group in 1997, The Drowsy Chaperone has since enjoyed fortunes as mixed as any marriage. A hit on Broadway, the show closed early when it came to the West End in 2006 despite largely positive reviews.
Fans of the piece will be doubly pleased therefore to hear of Racky Plews’ fringe revival at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Doubly, because this is the ultimate show within a show, an homage to a fictional Jazz Age musical, framed by the figure of a reclusive musical theatre obsessive (a suitably febrile Matthew Lloyd Davies) talking us through its one and only recording.
The results are tongue-in-cheek but also touchingly heart-in-mouth at times. Plews’ cast is bursting with genuine West End talent from leading lovers Ashley Day and Amy Diamond to Michael Howe ‘s Aldolpho, a Latin lothario whose every word is accompanied by an arched eyebrow and shower of spittle. Siobhan McCarthy, meanwhile, plays drunk with deceptive mastery in the show’s title role.
Some songs betray the writers’ stronger grasp of comedy than music and there are moments when the busy staging could be given more room to breathe. But Plews has produced a genuinely affectionate parody here, with enough knowing charm to draw in the cynic as well as the already-converted.