Staging ‘Gay's The Word’ in February is a canny move for the Jermyn Street Theatre: the gloomy weather provides just enough external misery to lift our appreciation of Ivor Novello's ultra frothy backstage musical. But in this clunky production, even clever programming cannot save Novello's flimsiest of efforts.
After producing a flop, musical comedy star Gay Daventry (a spunky Sophie-Louise Dann) tries to recoup her losses by starting an acting academy. Through a series of misadventures she and her students realise that the quality they need to succeed is 'vitality' – aptly the title of the show's most famous number.
But vitality seems a long way off as Alan Melville's songs – themselves long-winded – are performed with gumption but no zing. What actually succeeds is 'grannies doing jazz hands', with the house nearly coming down when four of the academy’s elderly teachers do just that.
A musical cannot live on cheap gags alone however and while there are enough theatrical winks and nudges to keep the audience tittering, director Stewart Nicholls doesn't have much to work with. For this, his last operetta, Novello descended into the bawdy world of music hall and it doesn't suit his delicate upper class wit.
Nicholls is unable to add coherence to this mêlée and his choreography is simplistic. The cast are hampered by awkwardness and only Dunn and the dynamic Myra Sands as deportment tutor Margaret Fallowfield really sparkle. Honour Bayes