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The Bolds (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: The Bolds

Society: West End & Fringe

Venue: Unicorn Theatre. 147 Tooley Street, London SE1 2HZ

Credits: Written and adapted for the stage by Julian Clary. Songs by Julian Clary and Simon Wallace. Arrangements and incidental music by Simon Wallace

The Bolds

4 stars

All photos: Ellie Kurttz

This show is warm, silly, affectionate, whacky and very funny. But, actually it’s more than it seems on the surface. At the heart of all the surreality of this upbeat Christmas jolly lies an immigration story, questions about inclusion, adaptation, fitting in and a gentle euthanasia subplot. And that’s why it works. We get real emotion as well as escapist nonsense from this accomplished cast of seven, several of whom are actor-musos.

A pair of enterprising Tanzanian hyenas, whose English is perfect, steal the identities of two tourists eaten by a crocodile. The new Mr and Mrs Bold, tails hidden under their clothes, come to live in the former Bold home in Teddington – where they, and soon their two children, conceal their Hyena identity, get jobs and live more or less as if they were human beings. They laugh a lot, as hyenas do and Mr Bold (David Ahmad) works as a writer of cracker jokes and some of them are very good. They don’t get on with their neighbour (Sam Pay) and eventually mount a rescue operation for a threatened hyena in a safari park – and that’s most of the plot.

Julian Clary’s songs are bright, cheerful and catchy and with orchestrations and arrangements by Simon Wallace (on stage on keys)  they range over a whole spectrum of styles. The retro rock and roll number “There’s nothing keener than a hyena” is good fun, for example, with the word “Hyena” flown down on a big panel with flashing

James Button’s set is neat. We see a kitchen, a dining room and bedroom and at one point a simple but clever way of showing of two groups of hyenas tunnelling towards each other under a brick wall. And there’s a skeletal blue Skoda in which the Bolds drive round the safari park.

Of course you don’t have to work very hard to see that the Bolds, with their different ways, trying desperately hard to conform are like any other immigrants. It’s hilarious but also mildly poignant. And the story about Tony who has to be rescued because he’s old and the vets are going to put him down really pulls at the heart strings. Bear in mind, too, that Julian Clary wrote this so when rescued Tony chums up with Mr McNumpty we are wittily led to sense that they might have a future together beyond friendship.

I’m awarding the fourth star for two reasons. First the performance of Amanda Gordon as Mrs Bold is glorious. She communicates volumes with the merest look, sings beautifully and moves compellingly. Second, I loved the tuba (Sam Pay) in the orchestrations. It gives aural depth and adds an unusual sparky musical humour.

But the funniest joke of the evening (on press night) was not scripted. Sam Pay, resignedly and rhetorically, as Mr McNumpty: Who knows what’s been going on while I’ve been at the shop? Child in audience: Me!

This review was first published by Sardines:

Author information
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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