All the Fun of the Fair - Garrick Theatre (review)
Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle
DAVID Essex’ long held ambition – to present a theatre show based around his music – was finally realized in September 2008 when All the Fun of the Fair opened at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley.
The Bromley dates were followed by a successful nationwide tour and finally, by a well deserved West End debut at the Garrick Theatre where, on April 28, 2010, it was well received by its opening night audience. But is it any good?
All the Fun of the Fair is about Levi Lee (Essex), a widower and the owner of an ailing travelling fair, and his rebellious teenage son Jack (Michael Pickering). Both have women problems – Levi with fortune-teller Rosa (Louise English), Jack with Rosa’s daughter Mary (Susan Hallam-Wright) and Alice (Nicola Brazil) whose shady entrepreneur father (Christopher Timothy) is inevitably surrounded by a bunch of heavies, among them the odious Druid (Cameron Jack).
Although Essex is undoubtedly the star of the show, it’s not at the expense of younger cast members – of Pickering in particular, who is given ample opportunity to shine. And shine he most certainly does. In fact, I’ll be surprised if we don’t see a great deal more of this young man in the future.
And Tim Newman as Slow Jonny is a revelation. Where Jack is good looking and charismatic, Slow Jonny is – as his name suggests – bumbling and none too bright. Yet his transformation in Gonna Make You A Star is a joy to behold.
Christopher Timothy, all trace of the affable James Herriot removed, is suitably menacing as an over-protective father; and the girls convincingly play out their roles as two-timed Mary and new love interest Alice. But as the villain of the piece, I wasn’t totally convinced by Cameron Jack’s performance. However, he did enough to elicit ‘boos’ of disapproval during the curtain call, something I’ve not come across since Javert suffered the same fate at the end of Les Miz.
Ian Westbrook’s set and Ben Cracknell’s lighting certainly bring the fairground to life. I particularly liked the galloping horses carousel, the backdrop for Mary and Alice’s He Noticed Me and the rousing finale with Essex, Pickering and Newman astride shiny new motorbikes (here think Wall of Death) and performing with gusto to Silver Dream Machine – what else!
All the Fun of the Fair is a contemporary story and deals with subjects not always addressed in theatre – for example, the stigma that still exists in communities that see fairground folk as outsiders or the notions of advancing years. With regards to the latter, there’s a delightful scene between Essex and Timothy that will certainly strike a chord with men and women of a certain age. And it’s here that Essex has the confidence and humility to poke fun at himself.
So, is All the Fun of the Fair any good? I think it is. Essex fans especially – and there are a great many of them – are in for a real treat. But others too, will find much to appreciate in this colourful, thought-provoking and highly entertaining production.