Of course it’s irresponsible to describe Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s gun-toting, madly violent killing spree across early ’30s America as romantic. But romance has undeniably fuelled their legend: their devotion to one another; Bonnie’s obsession with fame; their commitment to the suicidal fight that leads to their inevitable end.
It’s unusual, then, that this new musical version of their story from Ruby in the Dust – which brought an all-singing adaptation of ‘The Great Gatsby’ to the King’s Head Theatre last year – manages to dilute most of this romance.
Writer Linnie Reedman has attempted to cram in the entire Bonnie and Clyde story – from first meeting to death – alongside the narrative of Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law, Buck and Blanche. As a result, the action feels squashed.
In fact, a quarter of the way through, the focus shifts from Samantha Louise Clark and Tom Sword’s underdeveloped eponymous anti-heroes to ex-con Buck and his daughter-of-a-preacher wife Blanche, who both try to convince the duo to give themselves up, but get dragged into the carnage.
Part of that shift is down to a scene-stealing Emma-Jane Martin as Blanche, who is by far the best in the cast and delivers the musical’s strongest songs (‘Whisper to Me’ and ‘Bloodshot Heart’). The rest of the actors struggle with Joe Evans’s evocatively sensual, jazz-infused score.
Still, the story in itself is a cracker and in the much pacier second half, Martin and Anthony Jardine’s Buck highlight the terrible recklessness in Bonnie and Clyde’s actions, which makes the finale all the more poignant.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell