Andy Capp the Musical (Finborough Theatre)
Jake Smith directs the first professional UK production of Andy Capp The Musical in more than 30 years
"Marriage is not about love; it's about work," says the grim mother of the bride in this otherwise full-hearted re-heat of a 1982 Geordie musical by actor Trevor Peacock and Animals songwriter legend Alan Price that looks its age but smells as fresh as a newly cleaned pigeon coop.
I always felt that Billy Elliot would have been twice as good with songs by Price, rather than Elton John, the Price of his great Jarrow March album Between Today and Yesterday; his Andy Capp score is a full hand of folk rock, pub oompah-pah, surprise melodic invention and even a witty list song or two.
Trouble is the book. The source is Reg Smythe's long-running Daily Mirror cartoon featuring snapshots in the life of a layabout, pigeon-fancying, unemployed misogynist in the North East and his long-suffering, oversized wife, Flo, with odd appearances from his mates and the evil rent man.
Unlike another, much better cartoon-based musical, Annie, there is no story, so Peacock concocts a marriage among the neighbours and a crisis in the Capp household when bingo-loving Flo makes off – well, he has called her an ugly old cow – with his racing bird. Still, there's nothing that can't be fixed with a knees-up round the piano and a community pulling itself together behind an unexpected sporting triumph.
No, this does not entail Hartlepool United winning the FA Cup. Women and birds that fly the coop have a homing instinct, even if what they come home to is a bunch of blokes reeling back from the pub on bendy legs ("Good Old Legs"), smoking themselves to death and nursing hangovers ("Poor Old Head").
The cartoon was a genuinely funny exposure of working-class post-war stereotypes – Andy's cap was usually pulled right down on to his nose, so you never saw his eyes — and sat well in a mass-circulation, well-written left wing popular newspaper.
And the original show – which started at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and played a short season at the Aldwych - had Tom Courtenay giving one of his most endearing, wistful performances; the Finborough's Roger Alborough is ebullient and noisy, going out of his way to make Andy seem charming.
He fails, but not for want of trying. Jake Smith's production – well arranged on a tiny stage of planks and Bex Kemp's abstract painting of static cranes, grey river and street – also features a nice, plumpish performance from Lynn Robertson Hay as furious Flo, David Muscat as the Geordie piano player (the Alan Price role), Terence Frisch as the weedy worm who turns, Paddy Navin as his wife, Mrs Scrimmett, brilliantly discharging her big number ("Goin' to Barcelona"), and Tom Pepper and Tori Hargreaves as the newlyweds.
Andy Capp plays Sunday, Mondays and Tuesdays until 23 Feb, with extra matinees on Mondays.