I felt a bit of trepidation as I headed to the Arts Theatre (of death!) before seeing Shout! last night. Here we had another jukebox musical, and one with less than impressive word of mouth as well. Things weren’t improved when I snuck a glance at a neighbour’s programme and saw it opening with the same Petula Clark song as that damn bus (the song being “Downtown” for those keeping track.)
Fortunately it was all uphill from there. Not far uphill, but up enough that I was happy enough to sit back and enjoy the ride. I suspect this is because of adjusting expectations: the descriptions of Shout revolve largely around the flimsiness of its unattributed book. No, the book’s not as clever as, say, Return to the Forbidden Planet, but it does the minimum of creating excuses or introducing songs and doing so without ever saying “Let’s have a song!” And, to be honest, given the amount of time the book requires out of the runtime, I’m content to write it off and reconsider Shout as a revue a la Tomfoolery rather than as a proper book musical.
But nobody knows what a revue *is* these days, let alone sees them, so it’s easy to understand why everything gets promoted as an event or a musical when the truth is that revue may be a more appropriate term (even if this satirises the 60’s instead of today, but that in itself reflects our current changes in attitude.)
Meanwhile, it would be useful to talk about the show itself.
The year is 1960. Georgina (Tiffany Graves) is a modern young woman who heads down to London in search of love and the high life. On the train she meets Ruby (Marissa Dunlop), an actress in training, and shy wallflower Betty (normally played by ex-Wickeder Shona White but understudied by Francesca Newitt when I went). The trio end up renting a flat in Peckham above Best Cuts, a hair salon owned by Georgina’s aunt Yvonne (Su Pollard). The four women become fast friends and we spend the next decade as they marry, divorce, and belt through the tunes of the time as bridged by Tony T (John Jack), editor of Shout Magazine.
As I stated before, the book is largely irrelevant, though it has some laughs in the Carry On vein, and Jack’s editor speaks Public School English with the condescending tone of early television adverts which lends both a tongue in cheek to the proceedings as well as a reminder of how far we’ve come. The main thrust of the show is a decade of classic pop from Petula to Dusty, bubblegum to psychedelia, and the four main ladies (in addition to Jessica Kirton as a dialogue-free shop assistant/trophy girl) do an excellent job of belting to the rafters and reminding us all that the 60’s really were a golden age of music. Yes, that includes Su Pollard.
Also praise-worthy are Morgan Large’s designs, both simple and evocative of pop art, bright clean colours, and the rise in trippy patterns while functional and (short of some overdone strobing by colour-smart lighting designer Ben Cracknell) tasteful. Come to think of it, “tasteful” is probably the best way to describe the whole affair though “obvious cash-in” comes second.
Another groovy point was Large’s costume designs for the girls, but I was rather confused by the costumes for Tony T: much of Shout’s promotion on tour (and the CD cover) refer to it as a mod musical, but the lack of a sharp suit and skinny tie, anorak, or other iconic mod images stood out though they could be a logistical necessity for some extremely rapid costume changes.
Anyways, to sum it up: your enjoyment of Shout will be directly proportional to how much you like 60’s pop music and whether or not you can get past the fluffy book in lieu of something more intellectual.
Where: Arts Theatre
When: Until 28 June, Tu-Sa @ 19:30, W/Sa @ 15:00, Su @ 16:00
How Much: £20-£42.50
Concessions: £25 excluding Fri/Sat nights, book one hour before the show
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20. Maybe a few more if you’re a big Su Pollard fan.
RZ Other Notes: I guess it just shows that whoever composed most of Petula Clark’s music is all too happy to let the tracks out as long as they get their royalty cheque. Too bad they wanted an impractical amount for an official release of the brilliant short film “Animato” by creator Mike Jittlov. Jittlov created the film in 1969 and it’s a breathtaking work of stop motion and hand worked animation but the music was never cleared so you’ll have to do some digging to find a copy of the piece. A reworked version with new music was included in Jittlov’s feature film The Wizard of Speed and Time.