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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Boy Friend
Menier Chocolate Factory   Winter 2019-2020

A bubbly champagne cocktail of a show, this cheery musical wants nothing from you but a smile, and only the most determined curmudgeon could resist its kittenish charm.

Written – book, music and lyrics – by Sandy Wilson in the 1950s, the era of serious dramatic musicals (South Pacific, etc), The Boy Friend is a pastiche salute to the thinner just-a-lot-of-fun shows of the 1920s.

The setting is a school for rich Englishmen's daughters in the south of France ('We're being finished/And our families' wealth/Will be diminished/But at least we all have perfect health').

The plot is simple – girl meets boy and, well, that's about it. Other girls meet other boys, an older generation catches some of the romantic spirit, and nothing bad happens to anybody except for a few moments when someone is late for a date.

If the whole thing were any lighter of weight the dancers' tap shoes wouldn't hit the ground, but it is precisely the guarantee that no worry or even thought need cross the audience's mind that is the show's attraction.

Even the titles of Wilson's songs are reassuring – Won't You Charleston With Me?, It's Nicer In Nice, It's Never Too Late To Fall In Love – and their simple melodies are earworm-hummable.

The present production, led by director Matthew White, keeps everything moving perkily so that even the lamest period jokes scamper by.

As sometimes happens in rom-coms, the central couple are actually fairly bland, and despite singing beautifully and capturing the spirit of innocent joy, Amara Okereke and Dylan Mason are in constant danger of fading in the presence of more colourful characters and energetic performances.

Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson as Maisie is the centrepiece of choreographer Bill Deamer's high-energy dance numbers, ranging from that Charleston through some precision tapping to a stageful of of people doing Wilson's salute to the fad dances of the 1920s, The Riviera.

Janie Dee is delectable as the motherly-but-never-matronly schoolmistress, Adrian Edmondson and Issy Van Randwyck amusing as a bickering old couple, and Tiffany Graves shamelessly scene-stealing as an archly knowing maid.

Indeed, as too rarely happens, even the chorus is made up of individualised personalities who constantly catch your amused eye.

I suppose that those whose tolerance for good clean fun is limited might suffer from twinkle overload here. But that would be their loss. Don't let it be yours.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Boy Friend - Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre 2019