ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR
MASSES of twinkling lights, an abundance of bunting, tons of teddies and stripy canvas, Carousel horses and dodgem cars recreate for us the seedy glamour of a 1970’s fairground, while a bang and wow closes each act in spectacular style (cheesy, maybe, but still impressive).
Our fair-owner, Levi, is played by seventies’ heartthrob David Essex.
Back then, his hair was long and flowing; now, in his own sixties, it’s scant and white. He can afford to joke about it though, because, for an old dude, he still looks passably good.
To his fans’ delight, this musical has, in fact, been built around Essex’s bright and catchy hit songs, and that’s not an easy thing to pull off - as we soon discovered.
For, in spite of humorous moments, there’s generally more misery than fun at this fair.
One audience member was overly cruel, perhaps, in likening Essex’s low-key, somewhat static performance to that of a ‘constipated coat-hanger’, but I do see where he’s coming from: even in the role of a depressed, grief-stricken, guilt-ridden widower, understatement can go a bit too far.
Still, even though Essex’s vibrato moves as slowly as the rest of him, there’s still an element of charm and sparkle in his songs. Rock On, Lamplight, Winter’s Tale, Hold Me Close and Gonna Make You A Star, sung by Essex and/or various others make for special moments, enhanced by a good quota of fine singing and lively performance from the rest of the cast.
Tim Newman certainly wins hearts as ‘backward’ Jonny, while thuggish Harvey (David Burrows) is another favourite.
So, nice set, then, and jolly music - shame about the show!
Unfortunately, when it comes to careful crafting of plot, dialogue and character, we draw blanks all round.
In this Romeo-and-Juliet-style tragedy of feuding fathers and doomed love affairs, we sorely lack a smooth, subtle unfolding of events and relationships, and a deeper intensity of believable passions and tensions that would fully involve us with these characters. Muddled accents don’t help, and neither does the fact that there’s no live band.
A partial standing ovation at the end, though, shows that fans are willing to forgive an awful lot as long as something special is also on offer - like David Essex in leathers astride a motor bike, perhaps, or a huge rendition of Gonna Make You A Star ending with a colossal burst of silver streamers, or a ghostly rider who drives out from the Wall of Death, further defying gravity right above the amazed heads of the audience.
Now that, fair enough, certainly is a weird and wonderful spectacle.
* Eileen Caiger Gray