Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Written & directed by Ben Elton
It’s a tad ambitious for Close Up to be described as a ‘musical’ written by Ben Elton. It is indeed a cutely observed biopic of Lesley Lawson aka Twiggy, Neasden’s most famous daughter and the world’s first supermodel - but in reality it’s an Elton playlist drawn from the 1940s through to the 80s, with the writer interjecting short bursts of dialogue to link the numbers.
But credit to the man - Twiggy’s story is a fascinating one and set against Elton’s choice of songs, the end result is an evening of slick and polished entertainment. More than that, Elton must have had his dreams come true in directing the show, for not only is his show’s playlist a banging complication, the cast that he has assembled are simply outstanding.
Elena Skye leads the line as Twiggy, capturing the woman from gauche teenager through to her global (albeit troubled) stardom. Shamefully there’s no songlist printed in the programme so there’ll be few song specific credits in this review. Suffice to say Skye takes the role and makes it her own, with her act one closer of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me proving a moment in the show that is as moving and poignant as it is powerfully performed.
As her working-class parents (and Elton deftly comments on Britain’s class system) Norman and Nell, Steven Serlin and Hannah-Jane Fox are a treat - Serlin capturing the humility of the man, while Fox mastering the complexities of Nell who suffered PTSD following the 1940 Blitz of London and post-natal depression some 9 years later with Lesley’s birth. Serlin also turns in some cracking cameos of David Frost, Woody Allen and Melvyn Bragg.
There is equally fine work from Matt Corner and Darren Day. Corner as Justin de Villeneuve, Twiggy’s first love and the Svengali-influence who managed and manipulated the early years of her career, while Day plays Michael Witney, the American actor who Twiggy married, presaging his slow descent into alcoholism.
All of the cast sing flawlessly, accompanied by Stuart Morley’s 7-piece orchestra. The acoustics of the Menier can sometimes prove unforgiving but Gregory Clarke’s sound design works magic from his talented singers and musicians. Similarly Jonathan Lipman’s costumes catch the zeitgeist of the Swinging Sixties with Jacob Fearey’s choreography making fine work of the Menier’s space.
In a show that’s most likely to appeal to Twiggy and Ben Elton’s age groups, Close Up is an unpretentiously fabulous evening of musical theatre.
Runs until 18th November
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan