Once again the Finborough Theatre present a London premiere for a forgotten musical (though a couple of the songs from it are far from forgotten) and although as usual with this theatre I'd booked well in advance, I really became curious about The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd when Ian tweeted a couple of weeks ago that it was as if Beckett had written a musical. On the one hand as outlandish a claim as that has to make it a must-see, on the other hand Beckett and I don't get on. I can easily see why the comparison would be made; while the themes being explored are less existential and more political (class differences to be precise,) the way they're dealt with and the directions the story takes are very reminiscent of Beckett's brand of the bizarre.
I didn't know much about Anthony Newley other than he was once married to Joan Collins, but apparently he and Leslie Bricusse composed, among other things, Goldfinger, as well as this show. The brilliant set by Tim Goodchild is half circus tent, half board game, and after the introduction of a chorus of "urchins" (women dressed as pierrots) we meet Cocky (Matthew Ashforde) and Sir (Oliver Beamish.) The two are engaged in an endless game whose rules are ever-changing, the only constant being that it's impossible for Cocky to win. With the help of the sinister sniggering chorus, The Kid (Lucy Watts) and a selection of supporting characters, Sir enjoys teasing and degrading Cocky. For all the banter and pratfalls there's a constantly dark, sinister aspect to the book (there's even an offstage rape) which is all the more obvious in contrast to the cheery, often cheesy songs. Ian Judge's production somehow manages to handle this odd atmosphere although there's a really uncomfortable moment when the game is interrupted by The Negro - I kinda felt as if this scene that so strongly dates the show was played a bit too straight. At least in his brief appearance Terry Doe snags the show's most famous number, "Feelin' Good," as famously covered by Nina Simone, Michael BOOB-LAY and The Pussycat Do... wait, really, programme, The Pussycat Dolls? I think we can safely say that's a version I'll be happy never to hear. Anyway this and Ashforde's Act I closer "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?" are the clear showstoppers.
While I didn't love The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd I did like it, and the performances are as good as you'd expect from the venue (well I think they were good, when I could tear my eyes away from the super-cute pianist with his flamboyant page-turning.) It's more weird than wonderful but for the second night running I can confidently say I've not seen anything quite like it.
The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd by Leslie Bricussse and Anthony Newley is booking until the 2nd of July at the Finborough Theatre.