It's a shame that just as the Southwark Playhouse really begins to come into its own with a spate of great musicals (The Busybody, Mack and Mabel) and plays (Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, I Am A Camera), that it should be uprooted from its home in London Bridge and forced out to the wilds of Elephant and Castle.
It remains to be seen whether its audience will follow it out there, but it can at least be proud of having finished in style, with its final musical – staged with flair in the Vault – proving a strong contender for best yet.
Victor/Victoria is the tale of a lady soprano who becomes a female impersonator, finding huge success - and a complex love story - in the process. Confused? Don't be, this clean and clear production will explain all.
Anna Francolini is a strong actor and vocally pleasant, with a style reminiscent of Julie Andrews, but she doesn't entirely convince as Victor/Victoria. Her wig (by Jessica Kell) is wholly unconvincing when she is still Victoria and you never truly believe that anyone could mistake her for a man. The real star of the evening, then, is Richard Dempsey, whose turn as the effervescent Toddy is both hilarious and uplifting.
Wonderful lines proliferate – “It’s Victor!” “I don’t care if it’s Noel fucking Coward!” “You must have been in the army?” “…once or twice…” and Dempsey anchors the production with elan, although director Thom Southerland may need to rethink the intent of the late scene between Bernstein (a fine Michael Cotton) and Toddy – it’s not clear whether it’s meant to be hilarious or moving, with the audience plumping for the former on press night.
Luke Johnson is by far the best dancer of the night; his stunning lines, expert tumbling and complete commitment to his craft surely boosting the rest of the ensemble’s work. Matthew Cutts makes a strong King Marchand, convincingly wracked with confusion over his feelings for Victor/Victoria – “I don’t care if you’re a man-” “I’m not!” “I still don’t care…”.
The quibble then is the speed and ease with which everything is resolved. Of course this is not real life, but it all seems a little too convenient, with happy endings for all. It would also be interesting to know how many revisions were made to the original script for this production – some of the language seems incredibly modern, and the gay love theme is almost startling in its boldness.
Overall, though, this is a joy to watch, some fantastic dancing ("Jazz Hot") and singing ("Victor/Victoria") creating a snappy, laugh-a-minute night.