Betwixt! (Trafalgar Studios)

Posted on July 29, 2011

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The Theatre Slut loves an opening… night. So the chance to sneak into the opening night of ‘Betwixt!‘ was hastily accepted. Good seats too! Now to misappropriate a quote from ‘A Chorus Line‘, let’s get one thing straight: I never heard of ‘Betwixt!‘. I never saw ‘Betwixt!’. I don’t give a shit about ‘Betwixt!‘. But the twespians had been all abuzz, thanks to the prolific promotion work of producer Chris Clegg and celebrity supporter Stephen Fry. Despite all this, it was only when non-Twitter addicted friends started talking about the show (having seen the previous production at The King’s Head) that I took real notice.

The show is really ‘Will & Grace‘ meets ‘Enchanted‘ (with a little ‘Rosencrantz & Guildernstern Are Dead‘ thrown in the middle) with a (mostly) young cast of scene-stealers.

“I would totally drag king up and go all ki ki with Joan in a heartbeat!”

Steven Webb is the first real scene-stealer of the night, managing to out-Jake-McFarland even Sean Hayes (with the suitably similarly WASPish character name of Cooper Fitzgerald). While his performance may start off as apparent pastiche, it soon moves onto surer ground. And the boy can sing! I couldn’t help but smile every time he walked back on stage, as I knew some good laughs were on the way. Seriously who needs kegels! Webb isn’t ALL laughs however, there are some serious acting chops under those exaggerated mannerisms.

Then there’s legend, Ellen Greene. At first I wondered why she was slumming it in Trafalgar Studios 2, but it soon became apparent that she was working it like a pro, and so was the entire cast. This wasn’t a simple case of Greene swanning in and wowing everyone with her ‘Greene-ness’, she was here to act and her three roles gave her the chance to play. A bit more differentiation between the three characters may have helped – or even some more  exposition. As she sang her 9 o’clock number I actually saw Julie Atherton tear up in the audience. Bless.

Ashleigh Gray manages to pull focus without the use of her limbs, by just belting out one massive note from her disembodied head. I would have liked to see a bit more chemistry between her Miranda & Webb’s Cooper, but that’s a minor quibble. Gray is both incredibly talented and annoyingly beautiful. Bitch.

Perhaps the biggest scene-stealer, and most unexpected, is the simple, mute performance of Will Hawksworth (that name has to be fake, right, it’s just too perfect) as Joan. Joan is simply perfect in every way. I would totally drag king up and go all ki ki with Joan in a heartbeat! Trust me, Joan needs to be seen!

The plot, what there is of it, and the whole show really, is held together by Benedict Salter‘s lead character of Bailey Howard who is often forced into the ‘straight man’ role for all the comedic talent flying around him. He reminded me very strongly of Topher Grace‘s Eric Forman from ‘That 70s Show‘ – and that’s no bad thing. Salter worked the physical comedy of his role perfectly.

Major props must go to the cherub-like Ian McFarlane, the show’s writer & director who has written a terrific piece of musical comedy – it’s a panto on acid, you just go with the ride. His direction & script are both self-aware in the right kind of way, acknowledging the shoe-string nature of the sets etc and confidently moving past them. Sure, the plot is nonsense but the script is sharp and witty – who cares what the destination is when the ride is this fun.

The music is held together by a trio, lead by George Dyer who is unwittingly a major part of the set. Thrown jackets, dumped props, the odd gyrating Broadway star… he gets it all. Mismatched socks though? Someone’s mother needs to have a word.

The one great flaw in this whole, seat-of-your-pants experience is the disappointing design work – or more to the point, lack of. The costuming is fantastic, the lighting effective, but the space looks ugly and feels under-dressed. A lot of other, small productions around London are working with minimal, but effective and beautifully designed sets, which is what this production really lacks.

I said this was a cast of scene-stealers, and they are. The joy is that they are evenly balanced and each make the most of their moments.

Rating: See ‘Betwixt!’. It has the rough charm of a young man hitting the town, but it sure does not disappoint.

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Oh wait, it doesn’t end there! No. It’s “Opening Night” and that only means one thing, free booze!

Leaving the theatre I followed the footsteps of Lucy May Barker (formerly of the greatest musical ever written ‘Spring Awakening‘) and friends out the theatre, across the road and down the dark alley to a club. Thankfully, by just walking right behind her I managed to get past the front desk (okay, fine, they weren’t really policing the door) and down to the bar for a freebie white wine, a glittery cup-cake and some gossip.

The room was very Twitter heavy, a veritable who’s who of the next generation theatre posse. Lots of young performers were in the room, including ‘South Pacific‘s Chris Jenkins & Matthew Crowe, plus plenty of bloggers & reviewers from the show. Ellen Greene‘s arrival prompted a flurry of gays to go running to watch ‘Ellen descends a staircase’. At one point Steven Webb & Julie Atherton were seen cavorting under an archway for the cameras. God only knows how those photos will turn out!

Did the fun of the party sway my opinion of the show? Not at all, I’m a pro after all. But it certainly didn’t hurt!

Posted in: Musical