Review: Crazy For You at the Orchard Theatre

George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 musical Crazy For You has everything: singing, dancing, slapstick comedy, romance, mistaken identities… and – as if all that weren’t enough – former Strictly winner, and now well established stage star, Tom Chambers as main character Bobby Child.

Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Bobby wants to be on the stage, but his wealthy mother’s bullied him into working at the family bank instead, and demands he go to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on an old theatre. Thrilled to get away from Irene, the fiancée he acquired five years ago seemingly by accident, Bobby arrives in Deadrock and falls immediately in love with Polly – whose dad, unfortunately, happens to be the owner of the theatre. Desperate to save the theatre and win Polly’s love, Bobby comes up with a half-baked plan to pretend he’s theatre impresario Bela Zangler, and chaos, predictably enough, ensues.

Tom Chambers lives up to his leading man credentials from the moment the curtain rises, tapping and twinkling his way through the first couple of New York-set numbers. Then the action moves to Deadrock, and any concerns that this might just be the Tom Chambers show are put quickly to rest as an exceptional company of actor-musicians step into the spotlight. Claire Sweeney is great as the bitchy Irene, who (naturally) follows her man across the country and messes with his plan – as does a confused Zangler, in an entertaining comedic turn by Neil Ditt. But biggest shout-out of the night has to go to Seren Sandham-Davis, who stepped confidently into the role of Polly in the unexpected absence of regular star Charlotte Wakefield, and smashed it.

Photo Credit: The Other Richard

The score is largely familiar, with classic tunes like I Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Embraceable You and Someone To Watch Over Me. But there are also plenty that were new to me, with highlights including Stiff Upper Lip, an enjoyably silly celebration of all things British led by Eugene and Patricia Fodor (who just happen to stumble into town doing research for their latest travel guide), and the irresistible toe-tapper Slap That Bass. The immaculate choreography from Nathan M. Wright is particularly impressive given that most of the cast are also playing a variety of instruments at the same time.

Full of charisma and glamour, Crazy For You is a perfect evening’s entertainment, full of laughs, romance and catchy tunes. Tom Chambers excels in the spotlight, but even he can’t outshine a ridiculously multi-talented ensemble cast who seem able to do pretty much anything. The story is all very silly, and I still don’t quite understand how it all came together at the end – but when a show is this much fun, who cares if it makes sense?

Review: Private Lives at the Churchill Theatre

This week, the Churchill in Bromley plays host to a shiny new production of Noël Coward’s most successful comedy, Private Lives, starring Tom Chambers and Laura Rogers. A terribly English comedy of manners, the play follows the tempestuous relationship of Elyot and Amanda, as they fight, laugh, drink, dance and fall repeatedly in and out of love. The problem? They’re both married to other people.

Following their divorce five years earlier, both Elyot and Amanda have remarried, and on the first night of their honeymoons find themselves – in a startling coincidence – staying in neighbouring hotel rooms in France. It doesn’t take long for old passions to resurface… but can they make their dysfunctional relationship work this time, and where does that leave their jilted partners?

Though it starts out very genteel, with a dashing hero and an elegant, witty heroine, the comedy grows increasingly riotous as the couple reveal their darker sides, and begin to veer wildly between love and hate. Though the suggestion that a successful relationship probably needs a bit of violence sits a bit awkwardly with a modern audience, the fight scene is nonetheless a wonderfully chaotic – and at the same time carefully choreographed – comedy moment, as Elyot and Amanda tear apart their elegant living room while their estranged partners look on in horror.

Private Lives

So the play itself is all (relatively) harmless fun, but is director Tom Attenborough’s production any good? Reviving such a popular classic is a risky business, but I’ll leave it to those who’ve seen other versions to judge their relative merits – though it seems fair to say no couple will ever be able to match the play’s very first stars: Coward himself and Gertrude Lawrence, for whom the part was written, and with whom he reportedly exchanged a series of bickering telegrams before she finally agreed to be involved.

That said, Tom Chambers and Laura Rogers are a great pairing in every way – their romance is as believable as their mutual loathing, the witty banter and physical comedy are spot-on, and there’s even an opportunity for them to show off their skills as musical performers (and for Tom Chambers to remind us why he won Strictly). In addition, each captures the complexity of their character; he’s smooth and charming, but childish with a nasty temper, while she’s beautiful and clever, but selfish and occasionally cruel. And it’s this that makes them so much fun to watch, because you literally never know what they’re going to do next, or whether they’ll end up kissing or killing each other. Their abandoned partners are played by the equally impressive Charlotte Ritchie and Richard Teverson, who manage to be quite incredibly annoying (and dull) considering we’re meant to be feeling sorry for them.

Photo credit: Alastair Muir
Photo credit: Alastair Muir

Private Lives is a classy new production that oozes charm and sophistication, even in its wilder moments. From Lucy Osborne’s set, which takes us from a sunny hotel terrace to Amanda’s glamorous apartment in Paris, to Ed Parry’s ‘pretty ravishing’ costumes, every detail combines to paint a picture of young, beautiful people living a life of selfish decadence – and yet Amanda and Elyot’s relationship drama is one that could happen to anyone. And while it’s impossible to decide if we love or loathe them, there’s certainly plenty of fun to be enjoyed while we figure it out.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉