Cor! Strike a light, a few hours before curtain up on the opening night, director Daniel Evans was in a bit of a two and eight as his leading man, Matt Lucas, was feeling a bit uncle Dick and couldn't go on. Happily, there was a diamond geezer, Ryan Pidgen, in the company who was a bit light on his plates of meat and stepped in so the show could go on.
In a way, having an understudy taking over the lead role suits the mood of the play. After all, this is the story of Bill Snibson, a humble Lambeth costermonger thrust into centre stage when it's discovered that he's the missing Earl of Hareford. All the action revolves around him learning how to play the part of an aristocrat.
And Pidgen does an excellent job – there was little evidence that here was someone stepping into the role at the last minute. He's helped immeasurably by Alex Young as Sally, (the eponymous Girl), who is deemed too common by Bill's new-found family. She has a shimmering presence that beautifully complements the rather doltish Bill.
Caroline Quentin's battleaxe of an aunt, chatelaine of Hareford Castle offers excellent support, revealing a rather decent singing voice in the process. The ever-reliable Clive Rowe as the benevolent family friend also enhances proceedings. Plaudits too for Jennie Dale as the tap-dancing family solicitor and Siubhan Harrison, as the gold-digging Lady Jacqueline; while Jak Skelly in the small role of the butler provides some of the warmest laughs of the evening.
Perhaps the real star of the evening is musical director, Gareth Valentine, who has given Noel Gay's songs a bit of a make-over. "The Sun has Got His Hat On" is updated from a jolly music-hall number to a Latin American extravaganza, with the chorus rumbaing and tangoing across the stage – great choreography from Alistair David too. "Leaning on the Lampost" (not in the original musical) is transformed into a rather moving dream sequence, preparing us for the finale.
First night audiences at Chichester are incredibly benevolent – you'd feel that they'd give a standing ovation to the recitation of Article 50, as long it was spoken nicely and was on a spectacular set. However, the applause for Pidgen was probably the loudest of the season – and much merited it was too – as was the reception for the whole show. This is a stormer of a production, fizzing with laughs and with a genuine warmth at its heart.