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The Theatreguide.London Review

Menier Chocolate Factory       Autumn 2009

Victoria Wood's 1978 'comedy with songs' proves on revival to be a pleasant little show - with the emphasis on the little.

The show has Fringe written all over it, and even the relatively modest production at the Menier constantly threatens to overwhelm it or expand it out of all proportion.

Reduce your expectations, measure it by the scale of, say, a pretty good TV sitcom, and you can have some fun. Expect anything more, and you'll miss the small charms it offers.

We're backstage at a third-rate northern club on Amateur Night as a secretary who wants to be a singer prepares for her big chance, accompanied by the obligatory not-as-pretty best friend.

She'll eventually discover that the contest is rigged by the randy club owner, but first we'll meet a couple of other contestants and get a taste of how they cope with the almost-certainty that they'll never become stars.

And much of it is gently funny, and bits are gently sad, and there are a few sweet little songs rather awkwardly shoehorned into the plot, generally in the form of bittersweet soliloquies.

And as I said, if you don't expect too much and don't repeatedly have the sense of a tiny show lost on a not very big stage, you will have about as many chuckles as you'd find in 90 minutes of good TV comedy.

Victoria Wood has refreshed the show with a funny new opening and a couple of new songs, but leaves it firmly locked in the 1970s and, serving as director, keeps the performers anchored in some kind of comic reality that only crosses into parody when she wants it to.

Leanne Rowe captures the naive dreams of the would-be singer without ever letting her become ridiculous, and Suzie Toase brings a sweet Brenda Blethyn-ish quality to the friend.

Jeffrey Holland as an amiable part-time magician and Mark Hadfield as his nervous assistant carefully and successfully tread the line of half-parody.

Gerald Berkowitz

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