With riots on the streets of London it's probably ironic (and typical) that I spent the evening retreating into a fantasy world, which is where most of the musical Betwixt! by Ian McFarlane (who also directs) takes place. Bailey (Benedict Salter) has writer's block, and when all seems lost a mysterious locked door is delivered to his apartment, along with new roommate Cooper (Steven Webb) who happens to have found a key. They enter a fantasy kingdom where something something princess, evil enchantress, nuns, something something quest - I think I'm being slightly clearer about the plot than the show itself is. Along the way Bailey meets and falls for the disembodied head of Miranda (Ashleigh Gray) and in the production's big casting coup, original Little Shop of Horrors star Ellen Greene plays a trio of comic characters; Peter Duncan also dares to play three of his own.
This is a lot of silly fun and full of great performances - Webb plays a camp gay actor with an eye for older men (where do these casting people get their ideas?!) and along with Gray gets most of the best lines. The two older actors throw in a lot of charm (and Duncan has a funny turn as the megalomaniac leader of a travelling troupe of actors) while the chorus of Will Hawksworth, Alyssa Nicol, Vicki Lee Taylor and Rob Wilshaw carry a surprisingly large amount of the action, especially in the first act. Salter is rather underpowered both vocally and in trying to give his rather bland lead any personality, and is upstaged at every turn. The songs are also instantly forgettable and while I love a good breaking of the fourth wall, admitting the story's gone a bit silly, calling out big chunks of exposition etc, McFarlane seems to have taken this as carte blanche not to have to worry about a single element of the story making sense, or being even vaguely comprehensible. There's a real feel of a classy cast rising well above the material but it still makes for a fun evening with plenty of laughs - and surely better than the real world at the moment.
Betwixt! by Ian McFarlane is booking until the 10th of September at Trafalgar Studio 2.