Theatre Review: Sweet Charity

Posted on: 15 December 2009 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews the stunning new production of Sweet Charity.

That classic Tony Award winning 1960s musical Sweet Charity is back better and brighter than ever in a stunning new production directed by Matthew White at the ever enterprising Menier Chocolate Factory near London Bridge.

The story follows the comical misadventures of love encountered by the gullible and guileless Charity Hope Valentine, a woman who always gives her heart and her dreams to the wrong man. “You run your heart like a hotel - you’ve got guys checking in and out all the time”, one of her colleagues at the Fan-Dango Ballroom, where she works as a dance hall hostess, tells her. But Charity is a girl who can’t say no, except when it comes to the ‘extra-curricular’ activities which some of the other girls indulge in with the clientele.

Originally directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, this is a production of which he would have been proud. Stephen Mear’s sizzling choreography is both sassy and sexy and utilises every inch of space on the small stage. The score by Cy Coleman with lyrics by Dorothy Fields is both witty and tuneful with such memorable numbers as If My Friends Could See Me Now, Big Spender, There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This and The Rhythm Of Life, the latter performed with great gusto in some strange freaked-out hippie church, seeming as freshly minted as when they were first written.

Furthermore there are many one liners to cherish, most notably when one of the jaded hostesses at ‘the musical snake pit’, where the regular clientele totals a mere six, says of her job “we defend ourselves to music!”

But the reason this revival works so well is largely due to marvellous central performance by a blonde Tamzin Outhwaite, whom television viewers will be familiar with from EastEnders and Hotel Babylon, as the luckless, over-optimistic Charity of the title. She manages to exude an engaging combination of warmth, joy and sadness, not to mention a belter of a voice. With the supporting cast doubling up their roles, there are also impressive performances from Josefina Gabrielle, Tiffany Graves and Mark Umbers.

The atmospheric set of New York skyscrapers in the background and the scene of an egotistical Italian movie star’s apartment in which a large picture of himself hangs over the bed, at the top of which is an Oscar, is apt and really makes you feel you are there!

In short, a night in the theatre to saviour and a show richly deserving a West End transfer.

By Laurence Green

Where: Menier Chocolate Factory

When: booking to 7 March 2010

Box Office: 0207 907 7060

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