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Mrs Doubtfire

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • Shaftesbury Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Mrs Doubtfire, Shaftesbury Theatre, 2023
Photo: Manuel Harlan

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This winning new musical is a surprisingly clever stage update of the ’90s Robin Williams hit

‘Mrs Doubtfire’ is the latest in a seemingly endless post-pandemic string of musical takes on retro movies. ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Dirty Dancing’, ‘Groundhog Day’... if you were born in the ’80s, the West End has decided that by now you're obviously loaded and ready to be milked of your money like a pantomime cow. Only this genuinely funny comedy musical doesn't feel like a cash grab, thanks to its twenty-first-century jokes, perfectly paced book, and silly voices galore.

Writer John O’Farrell has worked on ‘Have I Got News For You’ and ‘Spitting Image’, and some of that topical flair can be seen here. Freshly divorced dad Daniel is a comic actor whose voiceover recording seshes ingeniously break out of the American world of the story: he begins with a witty theatre pre-show announcement, then breaks into non-naff impressions of Prince Harry and Boris Johnson. Refreshingly, this production has resisted the temptation to cast a famous funny person in the role, and musical theatre actor Gabriel Vick pulls off both the gags and the songs with impressive aplomb.

This story’s serious bits aren't quite as well-handled. O’Farrell struggles a little to make Daniel’s ex-wife Miranda (Laura Tebbutt) more than a boring disciplinarian foil to Daniel's relentless zaniness (here, she gets an improbable fashion career and a 2D hunky love interest). Karey and Wayne Kirkpatricks’ lyrics don't zing with the kind of psychological insights or witty couplets musical theatre fans dream of. But who cares, when director Jerry Zaks so thoroughly nails the bits we're all really here for: Daniel's lightning transitions from hapless Dad to fiesty Scottish nanny Mrs Doubtfire, who he dresses up as in a desperate bid to see his children.

The original movie mostly ignored the idea that dressing up as a woman is a pretty queer thing to do: this show embraces it. Makeover number ‘Make Me a Woman’ is a camp joy, any hint of dated gender politics dispelled by Daniel’s gay brother and his husband, who summon the spirits of Cher and Tina Turner in a kind of funky disco seance. But things sizzle even more in the chaotic restaurant scene where Daniel has to switch between his two personas at lightning speed: flamenco number ‘He Lied to Me’ keeps things moving in style as Daniel wrestles with a latex face mask, tartan skirt and ample padding.

Daniel’s definitely the focus here. But his three kids don't get forgotten, with angsty Alanis Morissette-esque number ‘What the Hell’ giving vent to their teen and pre-teen frustration at their squabbling parents. There's no sugarcoating the emotional pain everyone’s in here.

Ultimately, this show reaches a conclusion that's both warm and unsaccharine: family is what you make it. How refreshing, in a world where the ’90s cultural interest in divorce and alternative families has given way to a backward-looking cultural fixation with stories about happy mummies and daddies. ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ feels like it melds the best of past and present, offering a dose of nostalgia that's more complicated than Mary Poppins's spoonful of sugar - but just as sweet.

Alice Saville
Written by
Alice Saville


Shaftesbury Theatre
Shaftesbury Avenue
Tube: Holborn/Tottenham Court Road
£22.50-£175. Runs 2hr 30min

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