It’s difficult to know where to start praising Anna Mackmin’s wonderful production of Me and My Girl: the text itself, maybe. The biggest hit of 1937 was updated in 1984 by Stephen Fry in a version that cleverly teeters on the brink of affectionate parody without toppling over. The story of Bill Snibson, barrow-boy-cum-lord, and the choice he has to make between East End and West End, remains.
The 1984 version bolsters the score with two more Noel Gay hits, “The Sun Has Got His Hat On” (in this production, one of many stunning production numbers) and “Leaning on a Lamppost” (affectingly sung by the outstanding Daniel Crossley). However, the original Gay score has much more going for it than the title song and the iconic “Lambeth Walk”, notably several fine comic songs and the insidiously memorable “Love Makes the World Go Round”.
As for the production, it is first and foremost a superb ensemble piece, with a huge cast of 23 and inspired choreography by Stephen Mear. There is a necessary amount of Cockney knees-upping, but it is kept to a minimum, with “The Lambeth Walk” so inventive and unstoppable an Act One finale that for a moment it seems likely the interval will be cancelled!
The mature actors in the cast are not spared the dance routines, with the exception of Miriam Margolyes’ imperiously sympathetic Duchess of Dene. John Conroy, initially an adherent the Richard Wattis school of cold-fish acting, even has a joyously eccentric song and dance with “The Family Solicitor”.
The principals, from Patrick Ryecart’s apoplectic and surprisingly nimble general-turned-deus ex machina to Richard Dempsey’s goofy and nanny-fixated silly ass, are excellent. Even in this company two performances stand out. Josefina Gabrielle as the aristocratic vamp who finds Bill’s fortune irresistible is athletic, sexy and very funny, every gesture and intonation pitch-perfect. Daniel Crossley’s Bill Snibson is a triumph: unexaggerated (at least once the difficult opening scene is negotiated), sympathetic, splendidly sung and danced.
Above all Crossley and Anna Mackmin remember that the original Bill Snibson, Lupino Lane, was a great vaudevillian and Crossley’s performance has the throw-away charm of the best variety artists. My only reservation is with the performance of Jemima Rooper as Bill’s girl: it’s brave to cut out sentimental sweetness, but, in Act One at least, her gracelessness (like an East End Gracie Fields taking on the factory owners) is a bit too much.
Me and My Girl is opulently dressed by Peter McKintosh who also provides a set which makes great use of a double-revolve to turn the East End into Hareford Hall and then into the various interiors and exteriors of Hareford.
And concealed within what do we find but a bright and breezy 11-piece band under the direction of Jae Alexander?