Follow Us on Twitter

Sweet Charity - Theatre Royal Haymarket (review)

Mark Umbers (Vittorio Vidal) and Tamzin Outhwaite (Charity Hope Valentine) in Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

FOLLOWING its recent success at the 170-seat Menier Chocolate Factory, Matthew White’s revival of Sweet Charity has moved into the West End – into the somewhat larger confines of the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The question is: has it got what it takes to command full houses in a bigger and more competitive environment?

As many of you will already know, Sweet Charity is set in New York and follows the romantic misadventures of the gullible and guileless Charity Hope Valentine (Tamzin Outhwaite), a young dance-hall hostess who has a habit of falling in love with the wrong man.

And was there ever a more aptly named heroine than Charity Hope Valentine – a young woman who’d give her last dime to the needy, whose optimism knows no bounds and who unashamedly wears her heart on her sleeve!

Like New York, Sweet Charity is loud and brash yet in Outhwaite’s hands, Charity herself has an endearing quality that has you rooting for her every step of the way. Moreover, Outhwaite has the ability to totally captivate an audience, never more so than when performing the spirited If My Friends Could See Me Now – complete with top hat and cane – or the poignant I’m the Bravest Individual.

And with those special qualities required of a leading lady, she is indeed an ideal role model for the young contestants of Over the Rainbow who were among the opening night audience. It just goes to show what a long way she’s come since her days in Albert Square.

With cross casting – it was White and choreographer Stephen Mear’s idea to have the men in Charity’s life played by the same actor – Mark Umbers has ample opportunity to shine (and he most certainly does) in three very different roles – the heartless Charlie, the debonair Vittorio Vidal (complete with credible Italian accent) and the bumbling bespectacled Oscar Lindquist. And if you’re really counting, the cocky GI at the end.

Special mention must also go to Josefina Gabrielle and Tiffany Graves as Charity’s friends and fellow hostesses Nickie and Helene who, with humour and sadness, reveal a soft underside to their world-weary characters; and to Jack Edwards as the girls’ boss Herman for delivering the delightful I Love to Cry at Weddings with such panache when previously he’d done little else but shout.

Sweet Charity is a slick production. The scenes move effortlessly into each other, while Mear’s choreography is an indication of his painstaking attention to detail. This is perhaps most noticeable in the way he contrasts the girls relaxing in their dressing room and ‘working’ the dance floor, where their true feeling are cleverly masked by expressionless eyes and robotic-like movements.

My only gripe – and it’s a little one – is with the Rhythmn of Life Church, where Oscar takes Charity after their hilarious ordeal in the lift. For someone of Oscar’s disposition, it does seem an unlikely spot to hang-out. On the other hand, to omit it would be to deny audiences the wonderful cannabis fuelled The Rhythmn of Life, performed here with infectious enthusiasm by Paul J Medford, Rachael Archer, Zak Nemorin and the company.

So, does Sweet Charity have what it takes to put bums on seats? I think it does. But don’t take my word for it. Go along to the Theatre Royal Haymarket and see for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Read about the cast and creative team

Buy tickets