Bathhouse the Musical

behind the Victoria Palace, where Billy Elliot triumphs nightly, there is a
more intimate venue with a much more intimate, and revealing, offering. Here the hero is also called Billy, but
he is not battling the prejudices of a close-knit mining community; rather he
is learning how to find love, and lose it, in the close-knit community of the
Bathhouse, “where hard bodies rule”.

is some dancing – of a much more limited nature than at the larger address –
and a series of musical numbers, by turns moving, raunchy and downright rude,
which are executed with considerable panache and a good-natured sense of
pastiche. There are stylistic
references to ‘40s musicals, country and western and gospel, as well as movies
such as The Sound of Music, Gigi and,
rather more obviously, The Full Monty.

cast of five spend the entire evening wearing nothing (and I mean nothing)
apart from some handily velcroed towels and a sheen of perspiration. There is no plot to speak of, and no
let-up from the relentlessly camp celebration of pleasure-seeking amongst
like-minded males. If all this
sounds tacky, it is…with knobs on (sorry, it’s catching). For instance, in a sauna scene,
Maurice, played with much chunky chutzpah by Nic Gilder, sings “I can see your
eyes in the steam/Like I saw your thighs in my dream”. Later, the strange disembodied voice of Tony Slattery remarks that the Baths “don’t always lead to romance,
penetration or civil partnerships”.
This voice is an oddity. It
appears to be a mixture of tannoy announcements and Billy’s inner self, but it
serves, mainly, to interrupt the proceedings with ponderous humour and a faint
semblance of narrative drive.

UK premiere by Esther Daack and Tim Evanicki has some of the hallmarks of a
slick off-off-Broadway-style show, and will delight its target audience. Direction by Tim McArthur is pinpoint
accurate and there is a precision about the performances that only makes one
wish for more substantial material.
As Billy, Jon R Harrison is the perfect “new kid on the block”,
desperate to experience “everything”, and bringing a gauche and genuinely touching
charm to his “Lonely Love Song”.

the stairs a notice warns that the production contains “fog, brief nudity and
lots of bubbles”, which sums up the evening succinctly. The fact that I was handed a free pack of
condoms and lube sums it up even more succinctly.

– Giles