first night

Bugsy Malone

Donnchadh O'Conaill reviews Bugsy Malone, Fountains Theatre Company, Fountains Hall, Grey College.

Now listen up, ya dumb bums. There’s this guy in town, see, goes by the name of Malone. Bugsy Malone. Real swell guy. We are reliably informed, right at the beginning of the show, that ‘everybody loves that man, Bugsy Malone’. And why wouldn’t they? David Benhamou is a sharp kid, a bit of what you Brits would call a ‘cheeky chappie’. He’s got the walk and the twinkle in the eye, and if he could learn to not deliver every line in a conversation to the audience, he’d be the cat’s proverbial nightwear. Apropos nothing in particular, excepting a bit of musical theatre, he meets a real nice dame, Blousey Brown, who’s been auditioning for the same lousy part in the same lousy nightspot since the Big Apple was a pip. Bugsy’s real gone on this dame, and she holds a torch for him higher than the Empire State Building, but their plan to go to the coast and break Hollywood keeps getting foiled for the purposes of plot and suchlike.

Ya see, there’s gang warfare in the streets and speakeasys, and it’s all ‘kicking off’ as you goddamn Limeys would put it. Fat Sam, who runs a joint modestly bearing his name, is under some duress from Dandy Dan, whose mob have got a hold of new technology, splurge guns. Lemme tell ya, with these guns, they sure are making a mess. You go up against those boys packing just a custard pie, you’re gonna be deader than last night’s fish special. Sam Batty wasn’t quite a grand slam Fat Sam, but he came close. He could do with a bit more weight in his walk, and rein in his movements until things get really frantic, but I gotta tell ya, when his boy Knuckles croaks, he sure milks the scene the way it’s crying out to be milked. His gang have more moxie than class – when they sing ‘We coulda been anything that we wanted to be’, this stiff was tempted to reply, ‘Not dancers’ (excepting the guy playing Shakedown Louie, who should consider auditioning for the chorus line next time out). But in Prohibition New Yawk, moxie is king. There’s some similar rudimentary shuffling at Cagey Joe’s gym, where there is much amusement to be had from watching the sluggers and stumblebums hoofing it up, particularly Ed Caswell, who also does a mean radio newscaster.

Benhamou and Lucy Jamieson (Blousey) make a cute couple, especially when they crack wise, and – who woulda guessed it? – they can sing a bit as well. For my nickel’s worth, though, the top voice on stage belongs to Hannah Dunnett, who hits the sweet spot in ‘Tomorrow’, singing about how ya gotta carpe the diem and all that (very musical, that theme – ya don’t get too many song-and-dance numbers advertising the values of patience and biding your time, do ya?). As Tallulah, the gin in Fat Sam’s tonic and the thorn in Bugsy and Blousey’s bed of roses, Livvie Murphy has the attitude and bearing down flat (and seeing her in the part was a lot less creepy then watching a thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster). The only pity was that she didn’t have more room to strut during her big number – there is an aisle between the seats in Fountains Hall, but it ain’t no catwalk. She coulda stayed on stage like the chorus line during their numbers, which I must say worked a treat.

I gotta hand it to the band as well – they started like they had the heebie-jeebies, as we say on our side of the pond, but by the interval they were blowing hot and cold exactly where hot and cold needed to be blown. And I oughta say something about the stage crew. These knuckleheads never get the respect they deserve. They not only hadda cope with set changes, they also had to haul stiffs off the stage at the end of practically every scene. The set was dinky, and Matt Birkett had clearly whipped his cast into fighting shape. If the pacing was quicker, especially in the first act, and if the lights were a bit tighter during the intimate scenes, it’d be a show and a half.

So there ya have it. And yeah, some of the accents drowned in the mid-Atlantic; and yeah, the big fight at the end didn’t exactly outstay its welcome; and yeah, the lower stage creaked like the door in a bad horror movie, and its interstice – that’s what I said, ya bum, its interstice – claimed at least one high heeled shoe; but whaddya gonna do about it? This was college theatre the way it oughta be – straight-ahead fun, a real blow-out. Fun for the audience, and sure as heck fun for the actors. Some of those guys looked like they coulda kept going all night.

And my personal highlight? Fat Sam punching a blow-up doll across the stage. I hate those dolls; my ex-wife ran off with one of them. Give him one for me, Sam – the bum has it coming.


10 December 2010

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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