Sandy Wilson’s light-as-a-feather-boa musical was a legendary hit in the 1950s. Superb work from Matthew White, assisted with direction by his choreographer Bill Deamer, show us why.
It’s hard to imagine a show more fantastically escapist. Inspired by work from the 1920s, please remember The Boy Friend was nostalgic nonsense from its inception. The romantic adventures of rich kids and their elders on the French Riviera are deliberately low stakes. White appreciates the piece needs to appear effortless and banishes worries from the stage.
The characters are flat-as-cardboard cut-outs and a marvellous cast understand the humour this can generate. There’s a wonderful sweetness to our leading lovers, Polly and Tony, given a fresh feel by Amara Okereke and Dylan Mason, who both sound fantastic. A star-turn from Janie Dee, as a head teacher with a past, is just as delightful. Dee allows you to laugh at the character while believing she’s sophisticated (and that’s hard). Meanwhile her maid, Hortense, is a brilliant vehicle for Tiffany Graves, who embodies the comedic tone. Within a minute of coming on stage she’s given us an accent Vicki Michelle would be proud of and crossed her legs like Cupid Stunt. It’s clear, very quickly, you need to relax and enjoy yourself.
Talking of legs, there’s plenty of them in The Boy Friend. Deamer’s work as choreographer foregrounds the piece’s potential as a dance show and the limbs of the cast deliver. There’s the Charleston, tap, tango and the show’s very own ‘Riviera’. Winning the high-kicking competition is Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson as “mad-cap Maisie” whose dances with her beau Bobby (Jack Butterworth) are a dream. On a relatively small stage, there are moments when the show feels cramped – transfer anyone? – but the dancing consistently impresses with its wit and sense of ease, just the qualities needed here.
Wilson’s cynicism is of the gentlest kind – which White is strict in preserving – and the result is frothy from first to last. But don’t be fooled; this easy fun has work behind it. The score is a perfect combination of comedy numbers, catchy tunes and sentimental ballads. The lyrics are consistently smart and very funny. This is a show constructed to make you clap – nearly every number has a reprise – it is literally built to please.
Rejoicing in pink lighting from designer Paul Anderson for that vie en rose touch and gorgeous costumes from Paul Farnsworth that got a round of applause the night I attended (I can’t remember the last time that happened in the theatre), White and his team create a bubble of happiness. It’s all smiles, romance and charm, with every performer seeming to enjoy themselves. Why not, when there’s so much love in the air? The Boy Friend is a show to simply adore.
Until 7 March 2020
Photos by Manuel Harlan