Music and lyrics by David Essex
Directed by Nikolai Foster
This review was originally written for The Public Reviews
November 16 2011
All The Fun of The Fair is a rare piece of musical theatre. Unashamedly a feel-good “juke box musical”, it is also, perhaps the only such show that actually boasts the original artiste as lead performer. The publicity proclaims David Essex’s name, as boldy as the title of the show itself, and without doubt it is his presence that provides the foundation to the show’s strengths.
The audience enters to a drape across the stage, proclaiming the daredevil Wall of Death fairground motor cycle ride. That image, mixed with the opening number, a haunting rendition of A Winters Tale sung by Rosa, the Irish fortune teller, sets the scene for a story that will inevitably lead to tragedy.
The storyline of the show is un-complicated, cleverly written around many of the star’s well-known songs. Several love interests are portrayed. As Rosa, Louise English reprises the role she delivered in the West End last year. Her knowing smile and flowing skirts portray a woman fully capable of the potential to steal the heart of Essex’s Levi, the fairground owner.
Levi’s rebellious son Jack, falls for Alice, the daughter of a disapproving London gangster and as this romance blossoms, Jack spurns the lifelong desire felt for him by Mary, Rosa’s daughter, with whom he has grown up within the fairground community. Whilst at times the “rebellious child” storyline wears a little thin, there is a moment of unexpected poignancy in the bond that develops between Levi and the orphaned roustabout Jonny, a teenager with learning difficulties who has been with the fair since a small child. When Levi eventually addresses Jonny as “son” the young man’s overwhelming response movingly portrays how even the most simple of family relationships, that of father and son, is so precious to a young person who has only ever dreamed of receiving such affection.
While Levi and Rosa play out their own complicated love story, Alice, Mary and Jack are tangled in a love triangle of their own. As Alice, Tanya Robb is an impressive actress , and in He Noticed Me, and later , in If I Could, her voice is a delight. Also returning from the West End run are Susan Hallam-Wright as Mary who skilfully tugs our heartstrings as she realises Jack’s love lies elsewhere and Tim Newman who portrays Jonny’s difficulties sensitively.
The stage design by Ian Westbrook evokes a fairground that has seen better days, and Ben Cracknell’s lighting subtly contributes to the on stage atmosphere. As the story unfolds the finale of Silver Dream Machine is as breathtaking as it is moving.
The songs, (nearly) all penned by Essex, are generously shared around the cast, and generally this works well. However for those of us who know David Essex from Radio 1, rather than his more recent appearance in EastEnders, to hear Hold Me Close sung by Jack and Jonny, and not the man himself was a small disappointment. Notwithstanding, the Dodgem car ballet within that song was a joy to watch.
Without question this is a good show, even if the main draw is David Essex himself. The man’s timbre is timeless, and the authenticity that he delivers in performing his own songs is unquestionable. When he sings, he owns the stage, and he has (mostly the women in) the audience in the palm of his hand. If you want a good night of romantic, escapist, musical theatre, that will leave you grinning at the end, and humming a tune, then this show undoubtedly delivers. I clapped enthusiastically at the end – many women stood !