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Lucky Stiff (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Lucky Stiff

Society: Festival Players

Venue: ADC Theatre, Park Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB5 8AS

Credits: Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens .Music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed by Matt Wilkinson. Performed by Festival Players

Lucky Stiff

4 stars

I knew nothing whatever about this show which opened off-Broadway in 1988. It’s an absurdist musical comedy which is part-farce, part-whodunnit and very funny in the hands of this accomplished cast of ten and their imaginative director, Matt Wilkinson. But it’s not just a romp. Comedy only works if it’s underpinned by emotional truth and that’s there too.

Harry (Oliver Oxley) is a shoe salesman in East Grinsted and life is pretty banal. Then an American uncle he’s never met dies in the US and leaves him $6 million – but the condition is that he take the dead man’s corpse on an adventurous holiday in Europe and elsewhere. Otherwise the money goes to a dog charity in Brooklyn. Did I mention absurdism? It’s one of those narratives which mean that by the interval one has no idea where it could possibly go apart from the growing chemistry between Harry and the dog charity rep (Catriona Clarke) who’s only ever a few steps behind him.  In the event there’s an enjoyably unexpected plot twist in the second half.

The ensemble numbers are spikily slick with a lot of very neatly coordinated movement work. This is Frances Sayer’s debut as a choreographer and she has done an excellent job with a cast who are evidently very receptive.

Oxley, whose character is on a richly developmental journey, is a convincing actor and his singing is good especially in his second half, very lyrical duet in harmony with Clarke whose intense, humourless Annabel Glick is a delight. Everyone in this cast is strong and there’s a powerful sense of team work but Tony Hendon who mostly plays a corpse in a wheelchair which flops at apposite (or inapposite) moments does particularly well.

The diction in this show is outstanding. Yes, there are a lot of silly accents (Harry takes the titular “stiff”to Monte Carlo) but every one of Ahrens’s words, whether sung or spoken, is enunciated with clarity and that’s rare, even in a professional show. These people have day jobs and do this for love, so the quality of their voice work is especially impressive.

All this takes place on a simple set comprising three narrow revolving screens behind which James Harvey’s excellent five piece band sits upstage. The screens are swivelled manually by the cast who also push on and off other set items such as a hotel bed. It works seamlessly as it must if a farce is to come off.

I was seated next to the Noda rep.  I hope he enjoyed and admired this show as much as I did and that it gets an appropriate commendation.

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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