Sunday 18 November 2012

All The Fun of The Fair Special Edition DVD - Review

E rated - Exempt from classification


Writer: Jon Conway
Music & lyrics : David Essex
Director : Nikolai Foster

David Essex as fairground owner Levi Lee
Following a successful UK tour, the Special Edition DVD of David Essex’s All The Fun of The Fair has just been released. The staged version was reviewed earlier at London’s New Wimbledon Theatre ( see below, or here) with the DVD being recorded later in the run, at Sheffield’s Lyceum.

Opening with an eerie Wall of Death montage not previously seen on stage that sets the scene for the emotional roller-coaster of fairground life that the show depicts, close up the production is almost as effective recorded as it is live. The story’s finale in particular is as inspiring and spine tingling on the small screen as it is on stage.

The DVD has been produced simply but carefully. The sound recording is excellent, missing neither word nor beat and the camera angles whilst at times simplistic, are neatly planned. No cameras or cranes are ever in shot and the atmosphere of having been captured before a live theatre audience is effectively maintained. Nearly all of the cast perform well given the closer scrutiny of the video lens, in particular Tim Newman, Susan Hallam-Wright and,  playing her enchanting Irish Romany, Louise English. Those watching on a large screen may observe that David Essex certainly looks a weathered 65 years but, as originally reviewed, the unique tone of his voice is timeless. What is also clear from the close-ups is Essex's natural enthusiasm for his show which remains the one “Juke Box Musical” that actually features the artist on whose songs the show is based.

Nikolai Foster , who directed both stage show and recording has produced a DVD that is fun and faithful to the original. If your mum, your nan or even your man is an Essex fan, then this will make for a wonderful Xmas gift.

Available for GBP 14.99 from


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 !

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