Friday, 13 June 2008

REVIEW: "Betwixt!"

Did you like Stardust? What about Wicked? If the answer is “yes” to either, you have just over a week left to run to the King’s Head for what the RZ has been searching for since arriving in the UK: A solid, clever, and entertaining new British musical.

Utilising a hybrid of children’s theatre devices and grownup maturity, Betwixt! starts with fantasy novelist Bailey (Stephen Fletcher) having one hell of a day. His girlfriend is leaving, hype for his new book is rising, his agent is pushing a film, and he’s stuck in the middle with writer’s block. Just when things can’t get worse, a male version of Sally Bowles appears in the form of out-of-work actor Cooper (Ian MacFarlane, the author). When a mysterious door arrives, the two cross into a fairy tale world with adult consequences. As prophesy demands, the hero and the queen from another world are entrusted to save the prince, swapped with a real world twin, and charged to destroy an evil enchantress, the two encounter a world of colourful characters with comedic circumstances.

And what a crazy cast we have. Ex-Maria contestant Abi Finley spends most of the show as a disembodied head, and Amanda Symonds gets to chew the limited scenery as both the villainous enchantress Langwidere and her sister the Nymph Queen. Should rumours of Xanadu transferring to London come to fruition, the RZ strongly suggests casting Ms. Symonds in the Mary Testa role.

From a design standpoint, the King’s Head doesn’t offer much to work with, but the team make it work, with the exception of sound. Yes, despite being unmiked, the show can get painfully loud at times, mostly during the big end-of-act numbers when everybody is belting over the band. Or perhaps the RZ just has sensitive hearing and needs to sit further back than the third row - who can tell?

Otherwise, there’s very few negative points that the RZ can make about Betwixt! The “real world” setting would be just as nice in London as NY (perhaps Mr. MacFarlane is actually an American?) and the show pushes the family-safe boundary with some post-watershed language and graphic choreography, but the RZ doesn’t have children to worry about so parents should judge for themselves if it’s safe for theirs. And while the score wasn’t immediately running through the RZ’s head on the way out of the theatre, it certainly charmed him enough to try and find friends to return with before the closing.

In short? Tongue-in-cheek fantasy is in right now, and if you like the genre Betwixt! will leave you charmed from the first scene. While it will never be a gigantic West End blockbuster, Betwixt! has a clear future in regional and community productions. See it while you can.

Where: King’s Head Theatre
When: Until 22 June, Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Sa/Su @ 15:30
How Much: £20 Unreserved, £25 Reserved
Concessions: £17.50 Unreserved or phone/come to the box office and use the booking code “goldfish” to get tickets for £15.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20 for a solid show, and the view is good everywhere in the theatre. Unless you really have a favourite spot, the £5 reserved seating premium isn’t worth it.
RZ Other Notes: Baily and the Nymph Queen. It may be a strictly by-the-book comedy poof moment, but it’s still riotous.

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