Close-Up, Menier Chocolate Factory, 2023
Photo: Manuel Harlan
  • Theatre, Musicals

Close-Up – The Twiggy Musical

Ben Elton’s Twiggy jukebox musical is an exercise in tedium, with a truly random assortment of songs


Time Out says

It only takes seven words to make a critic feel faint: ‘a new musical written by Ben Elton’. As its recent revival showed, ‘We Will Rock You’ remains one of the dumbest things ever to have made it to a stage. But when he wrote it well over two decades ago, Elton was young-ish and foolish. Surely ‘Close-Up’, a jukebox musical (uh-oh) based on the life of supermodel Twiggy will be better. Surely?

Elena Skye comes on as Twiggy. Pixie cut, nice dress, thick lashes. She definitely looks the part. Then she starts to speak and – weird, this – she sounds a lot like Ben Elton. She addresses the audience with little snippets of her life (‘I was born in 1949…I became the first supermodel in 1966…’) as do other characters: two and half hours of Wikipedia-skimmed biography set to the most insane collection of songs including Harry Nilsson, Lewis Capaldi and Bernard Cribbins.

Those tunes are so scattershot in styles and eras that they must have been selected entirely based on what rights were available. Every track is introduced with a line like ‘this was number one the year I was born’ or ‘this was in the charts when I met my husband’ or ‘this was popular the year my mum got electroconvulsive therapy’.

Amid this lazy chaos we are graced with occasional wry Eltonian asides and lessons in gender politics. You see it’s not enough for Elton to (try to) entertain us; he must educate us, too. Nowadays, says one character of Twiggy’s relationship with her boyfriend, we’d call it gaslighting. These days, says another, we know about feminism. It’s like someone’s explained a few hashtags to their dad and now we have to listen to him explain them to us, but also he thinks we’re seven years old.

Part of the problem is that, as much as Twiggy is a cultural icon, her story simply isn’t that interesting - or at least that’s how Elton makes it seem. Act one’s high point: Twiggy gets a haircut. In act two she falls in love with alcoholic actor Michael Witney (oh yeah, Darren Day’s in it) whose addiction is treated with such toe-curling mawkishness that it’s hard not to laugh - a musical note turns into a heart monitor flatlining as he sings his final note before having a heart attack and dying.

And where Elton’s script does the bare minimum, Jacob Fearey’s choreography is ludicrously maximal, influenced by sixties styles but adding ridiculous amounts of limb-flinging with no real point. Philip Gladwell’s lighting does some extraordinary heavy lifting to bring life to the dull set, a white photoshoot backdrop. 

Jonathan Lipman’s faithful costumes look amazing and individual songs sound great - big blazing renditions of ‘Downtown’ or ‘The Air That I Breathe’ with wonderful era-hopping orchestrations by Stuart Morley who also directs the seven-strong band – and when the hardworking ensemble sing together you feel a little stir of hope. 

Skye does a brilliant job enlivening a role that largely consists of reciting trivia. Hannah-Jane Fox doesn’t have much to work with either but finds great warmth and humour as Twiggy’s mum Nell, who suffered from mental health problems. Elton turns everyone else into caricatures as thin as Twiggy’s legs.

Along the weary way there are glimpses of what this might have been, if it had decided to be anything other than the most boringly straightforward telling of Twiggy’s life. ‘She saved M&S’ her mother says proudly at the end, a flash of Elton’s silly humour coming through. 

But it settles for being all show, no tell. This should be called ‘Twiggy’s Wikipedia Page - The Musical’. No matter how many times these characters tell us how important Twiggy is, how much of an icon she was to working-class women, that doesn’t make us feel it. After all of that, we get to know all about Twiggy’s life, and never actually get to know Twiggy. 


£45-£55. Runs 2hr 30min
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