All the Fun of the Fair

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

***

You cannot deny that David Essex has practically done it all in the world of entertainment during his long and highly successful career .He seems to still be enjoying the limelight, even if most of it is now given up to the young cast of All the Fun of the Fair.

Essex put together this musical featuring his own work back in 2008. With an early taste of musical theatre, playing the lead in Godspell in 1971 and several other major West End productions throughout his career , one wonders  if this was what he had in mind for his songs all of the time.

Essex plays Levi the owner of a 70s touring Fairground .With Louise English playing Rosa the Irish fortune teller there seems to be an obvious nod to his own roots as his real father was an Eastend dock worker and his mother an Irish traveller.

 David's presence was clearly a delight to his adoring fan base but as someone who has often stated he wants to be taken seriously the woops and mutterings every time he entered the stage must have been a distraction. When a mobile phone went off close to the stage he stopped and gave a long disapproving stare in the offenders' direction.  (And quite rightly so)

FLASHING LIGHTS

It is something of an achievement to be able to collate songs from one's own self penned repertoire then shoe horn them into a narrative in such a constructive way but even so, the first act still seemed a bit shallow. The songs, whilst enjoyable, lacked the musical depth to sustain the drama with a host of, flashing lights, and ride on bumper cars to cover the gaps.

However the second half was far more effective , nothing felt out of place and even with its minimal staging every segue felt written for the part and dramatically flowed well.

A notable section and turning point was (Rob Compton) Levis son Jack and his love interest Alice (Tanya Robb) when they meet at the station to elope performing a perfect rendition of ` If I could.' 

Barry Bloxham revives his role as the evil, leather clad henchman, Druid from the original production and was effective enough to warrant boos for him at the curtain call.

The dilemma Essex and his team must now face is what to do with it all as this run comes to an end. It is a musical that relies heavily on his presence and for someone who looks for constant diversity, and at the age of 64, it's hard to imagine him touring with it again.  

However I am sure the full house at the Grand were not thinking about that or his future career direction during their final standing ovation as clearly for them, the only way is Essex.

Jeff Grant

All fairly good fun . . .

***

FORMER pop star David Essex is really more actor than singer in this pleasant musical story based on his much loved albums.

Now 64, his voice has inevitably lost some of its power, but that is cleverly disguised by other members of the cast joining him when he sings some of those hit numbers from the past.

And Essex is modest enough to admit the toll of the years when, playing fairground owner Levi Lee, he looks back on the past when he had 'black curly hair', removing his porkpie hat to reveal a head balding and grey.

His fans loved that, and there were plenty in the first night audience who gave him a standing ovation mixed with cheers at the final curtain.

Essex plays a widower whose wife died in a wall of death motorbike accident, perhaps linked to his revealing an affair with the fair's fortune teller, Rosa (Louise English).

His son Jack (Rob Compton) is proving a Jack the Lad, two-timing his girlfriend and heading for a sticky end...there's a feeling of Carousel about some of this musical.

There is an impressive performance from Tim Newman as Jack's loyal friend, Jonny, and the audience enjoy hits like Hold Me Close, Gonna Make You a Star, A Winter's Tale and Rock On.

The show ends at full throttle with Jack soaring over the audience on a motorbike with Essex, in leathers astride another grounded bike, and Jonny, singing Silver Dream Machine.

All the fun of the Fair is directed by Nikolai Foster. To 14.04.12

Paul Marston 

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