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Me and My Girl (Susan Elkin reviews)

Chichester Festival Theatre

It was one those ovation-for-the-understudy nights. Earlier in the day Matt Lucas, due to play Bill Snibson, had seen a throat specialist who decreed that he needed to rest his voice. So we got Ryan Pidgen in the lead role on the opening/press night. He had rehearsed for just a few hours. The result was a warm, confident, accomplished performance as the gor blimey jack-of-all-trades from Lambeth who inherits a title and a fortune. Pidgen dominated the stage with his singing, dancing and all those punning one liners for every second he was on it. It was a bravura performance by any standards. Had it not been obvious (to most people) that this wasn’t Matt Lucas I don’t think anyone would have known that Pidgen was an understudy.

Me and My Girl is a gloriously old fashioned, feel good musical dating from 1937. Like so many of the best British comedies it’s a play on social class with more than a whiff of both Pygmalion/My Fair LadyKind Hearts and Coronets and HMS Pinafore which is substantially referenced in Mark Cumberland’s sparky orchestrations of Noel Gay’s score.

Caroline Quentin is terrific as the fierce, bossy (but of course there’s more to her) Maria, Duchess of Dene. She flounces, frightens and fulminates in a fabulously frumpy tweed skirt until the very end when, Katisha-like she succumbs to the charms of her old friend Sir John Tremayne (Clive Rowe – engaging). As her glittering daughter, Siubhan Harrison flirts, swarms and there’s a very polished, make-you-gasp dance scene with a group of men in which she is thrown into all manner of unlikely poses. Goodness knows how long it had to be rehearsed for.

And there’s splendid work from Alex Young as Snibson’s titular “my girl” from Lambeth who really isn’t very likely to fit in as Lady Hareford. In her woollen beret and spectacles she initially presents a homely figure who can also sing and dance “to the manor born” – as it were.

But the real star of this tuneful, uplifting show is the ensemble who drive the piece along with energy and panache – assisted by choreographic strokes (by Alistair David) of witty genius such as suits of armour which tap dance and a tango with beach towels, The big set pieces such as Doing the Lambeth Walk (which I’m still humming 12 hours later) and The Sun Has Got His Hat On are gloriously vibrant too. The former, of course, keeps shifting its key up in semitones as it gets faster – hardly an original idea but it works very well indeed here and looks great as the pearly kings queens dance to the stage through the auditorium.

Anyone who reads my reviews even occasionally will know I’m a sucker for a good band and the 11 musicians led my MD Gareth Valentine certainly come up trumps here. It looks a bit odd to see Valentine’s head protruding from a triangular down stage trap while the rest of the band is concealed from view under the stage. But the sound works perfectly.

Daniel Evans knows how to stage a spectacle and he’s in fine form with this one which could, I suspect, be Chichester’s next West End transfer.

First published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Chichester%20Festival%20Theatre%20(professional)-Me%20and%20My%20Girl&reviewsID=3255

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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