The Bolds review – Julian Clary's stage adaptation is a rambunctious delight
The show runs at the Unicorn Theatre until 31 December
Family oriented theatre productions that charm the grown ups as well as rambunctiously entertaining the kids are rare beasts indeed, a bit like the titular family of this wickedly entertaining new musical adapted by Julian Clary from his own children's books. The Bolds are a bunch of hyenas passing themselves off as a conventional two parents-two kids family in suburban Teddington.
This kooky, hilarious little show hits all the right notes and plenty of unexpected ones too. Clary and director Lee Lyford have created a crazy yet relatable world where giraffes can work as shelf stackers in the Richmond Waitrose ("it's the perfect job for them!"), a family car trip around a safari park culminates in an underground tunnel escape for an elderly hyena, a lonely school friend of the junior Bolds longs to join their unconventional tribe, characters whip out brass instruments and play like dreams, a baby monkey gets wheeled about in a pram, and a meddlesome, wall-banging neighbour harbours a bizarre secret of their own. There are also valuable, but never over-egged, messages about friendship, kindness and finding family in the most unexpected places, that crucially never talk down to a young audience.
Lyford repeatedly stages the apparently unstageable (the aforementioned escape, a crocodile attack mid-river, an onstage car, among many others) with wit and invention on a colourful, attractive set by James Button. Clary and Simon Wallace are responsible for the score, a boppy, catchy collection of numbers that take in Music Hall, pop, reggae and even swing, many of which would not sound out of place in way more grown-up musicals.
The cast are sublime, and multi-talented. David Ahmed, Amanda Gordon, Mae Munuo and Sam Swann make an adorable, high energy bunch of Bolds. There's also fabulous work from Sam Pay as an uber-camp neighbour, Jon Trenchard as a hyena on his last legs, and magnetic Charity Bedu-Addo in a variety of roles but particularly affecting as a sad child enchanted by her adopted furry family and with big Hollywood dreams.
Julian Clary contributes some hilariously disaffected voiceovers, and watching the enraptured reactions of the kids and their attendant adults is a joy in itself. So often with family shows, somebody gets bored as it's too sophisticated or too childish. That is unlikely to happen here: a couple of hours of unalloyed delight, a genuine Christmas cracker.