Tuesday, 28 October 2008

REVIEW: "So Jest End"

(Second of two reviews today, see below for a quickie catch-up post.)

London’s history with the Forbidden Broadway franchise is an iffy one. Despite running for over twenty years across a variety of New York locations, all three attempts at bringing the sharp witted parody property to London have been met with short, unprofitable runs. Recently, a local alternative has been in development, running first a few months ago and now in a one-weekend-a-month engagement at the Leicester Square. So Jest End (formerly Jest End and Fraudway) attempts to rework the winning formula for the West End, but it comes up empty and unimpressive instead.

The fault lies in getting what makes Forbidden Broadway funny: While Forbidden’s jokes tend to tread the same themes, the show is kept religiously up to date (barring the occasional throwback to the classic diva and the infamous Annie skit) and the show chooses its targets well: the dumbing down of Broadway, plots of hit shows, eccentric divas, and new trends. Creator Gerard Alessandrini also keeps his jokes wide enough that innocent tourists wandering in on a half price ticket stay entertained even if they haven’t seen everything on the boards.

And this is where So Jest End fails. Despite being billed as an update and featuring new songs, much of the material is out of date: there are still bits from Mary Poppins (gone six months) and Footloose (closed a year ago), shows with no official plans for the West End (Little Mermaid), and Gone With The Wind jokes (again, gone for months and no longer funny). Instead of looking at the state of the West End or even some of the biggest shows (no Hairspray, Dirty Dancing, or Joseph bits), the popular themes are reality TV (a full two song bit dedicated to the upcoming Oliver and multiple references elsewhere) and the low state of actor pay (constant mentions plus a full song about how Phantom uses alternates). There’s enough to chuckle one’s way through it, but the material lacks fangs and fire which makes it hard for the cast (all very talented and flexible) to land the serious jokes. Only the Les Miserables bit about the hell of lasting a year in the cast managed to score constant big laughs, and even so it just doesn’t hit as hard as Forbidden Broadway’s “Ten Years More.”

While it’s good to see those involved in the West End finding humour in its flaws, So Jest End is very much an insider’s show and mere fans (or even industry people who aren't actors) are likely to find themselves lost, bored, or underwhelmed. While the show will undoubtedly get better over the years and various iterations, it’s just not there enough yet to justify even its Fringe-level ticket cost or the risk of not being able to get home (see below for more).

Where: Leicester Square Theatre (Basement)
When: 14/15 Nov, 19/20 Dec @ 23:00
How Much: £15 General Admission
Concessions: None
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £5. It’s strictly amateur night.
RZ Other Notes: Hoo boy, where to begin. First, go to this with friends. I made the mistake of going alone and was the only person NOT attending with at least six companions who knew the people in every other group at the venue. Second, get seats at the tables if you can - the back row seats may be more comfortable but there’s no rake so they’re slightly obstructed and the people next to you *will* fidget and elbow you repeatedly as they move around attempting to see what’s going on.

Third, be forewarned that securing transport after the show is at your own risk. While most bus lines are still in operation at 00:15, and while the Northern Line hasn’t OFFICIALLY run its final trains, Leicester Square station was thoroughly gated off and locked up when the Saturday show let out, as was Tottenham Court Road. Patrons looking to catch the underground home may have better luck at Charing Cross, but I wound up getting lucky and catching the next to last train out of Goodge Street instead. Should you not live conveniently on the Northern Line, work out your bus route in advance or plan to budget on catching a cab as you will not be able to transfer to another underground line.

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