Fairground ride still thrills the fans

All The Fun of The Fair

New Alexandra Theatre

***

DAVID ESSEX plays it all pretty clever in this revival of his fairground musical.

He gets to tour much of the country with all his old material as the star of the show but has other people to do most of the vocals and dancing so he doesn't actually have to sing or move much himself.

His voice, these days, is on the wane and reminds me vaguely of the gravelly Johnny Cash in his final years, so he avoids the big vocal numbers as he cuts a rather paternalistic figure amid the cast as Levi Lee, the old-fashioned boss of a run down family funfair.

Not that Essex, 64,  tries to hide his age, He even takes the micky out of himself with lines such as "The older I get the better I was" and a wonderful moment when he declares “I had this long, dark, curly hair once” and removes his pork pie hat to reveal an expanse of silver and, let's be honest, touches of pink.

A story set in a fairground gives us the age old plot of the innocent town girls falling for the hard, rough and ready fairground lads – Carousel  with a cockney accent.

The fairground lad in this case is Jack,  Levi's son, played with lots of vitality by the promising Rob Crompton, while the sweet, innocent young thing is Alice, Tanya Robb, who just so happens to be the daughter of local dodgy geezer and gangsters-r-us concession holder Harvey (David Burrows) backed up by his minder and hard man Druid, played with at times genuine menace by Barry Bloxham in leather coat and gold chain.

Sadly it does not do Druid's street cred, or indeed the plot a lot of good when for some reason he has to get involved in a sort of cheery cockney knees up  medley with Harvey, Rosa and Levi for a lively rendition of Rock on.

Rosa, by the way, is the Romany fortuneteller who shares a guilty secret with the recently widowed Levi. They were having an affair and Levi's wife found out which could explain her loss of concentration and fatal accident in the family Wall of Death act which has never been performed since.

Pop star-come-Wall of Death rider David Essex as Levi, boss of a run down funfair with a dark secret and family trouble

Jack–the–lad tells his dad the fair is going bankrupt and it needs the Wall of Death back. Levi after much soul searching and angst over the role of a father eventually agrees which throws Jonny into the mix. He is played beautifully by Tim Newman and is really the star of the show.

He is a runaway, abused orphan adopted by the fair and is a sort of lovable psychotic village idiot with a philosophical streak. Village idiots are ever so useful when you need a third rider to join Levi and Jack in the death defying - or not, of course, in Levi's wife's case – act. It also give you a good finale for Act 1 with Gonna Make You a Star.

Rosa's daughter Mary (Susan Hallam-Wright)  is supposed to be Jack's girlfriend in another plot we could have a happy ending dad and son marrying mother and daughter and a triumphant return of the fabled Wall of Death.

Sadly, at least in Jack's case it is not to be as he ends up dead, or brown bread as no doubt Harvey would have it. In a tale of tragic love we have Harvey's boys wrecking the fair as a hint for Jack to stay away from Alice and our star-cross lovers running away to Doncaster . . . I suppose they had to go somewhere.

Their duet If I Could was a touching moment although the dance in the middle needs some work.

It all builds up to the final confrontation which leads to Jack's untimely demise.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

There is a moral lost in there somewhere about parents and children , prejudices and standing in the way of true love or something like that but the show must goes on.

So we end with  the Wall of Death returning with Levi and his now adopted son Jonny to give us a rousing finale of Silver Dream Machine when we are told Jack will be riding his bike in heaven and lo, there he is on his Homda, or Harley or whatever, gleaming and shiny silver floating high above the audience (health and safety will have apoplexy when they find out - bloke on a bike hanging from a wire over people in seats!!!!! Pass the sal volatile, Gladys ).

It was Cheesy with a capital C and a capital H, E, E,  S and Y as well for that matter and the audience loved it.

To be fair the audience loved all of it with rousing cheers when Essex first walked on stage and an enthusiastic standing ovation by an audience made up I suspect largely of fans of David Essex rather than aficionados of musical theatre.

They had had a collection of his hits from the Tim Rice-Mike Batts A Winter's Tale through All The Fun  of The Fair, Hold Me Close, Street Fight, Its Gonna Be Alright, ,  Father and Son, Lamplight and the final Here We Are Together and were just itching to join in, clapping along at any opportunity.

They had a few songs or snatches of songs from Essex himself and a great fairground set from Ian Westbrook complete with dodgems and even a set of carousel horses. Ben Cracknell produced some dramatic lighting and the direction by Nikolai Foster kept up a decent pace.

One woman claimed it was the best musical she had ever seen. I suspect she does not go to the theatre that often. It is not one of the great musicals but it is watchable entertainment with songs we remember, a bit of menace, a bit of romance and some touching moments. The one thing lacking strangely, despite the title, is much in the way of fun with not a lot of humour to soften the lovers against the world drama.

Incidentally it is a pity that Birmingham has been short-changed in this run. The musical opened at the Alex which has been used all week for all the technical rehearsals which means that in a run that started last night and eventually ends at Wolverhampton Grand next April the second city is afforded just three nights, a weekend run including Sunday.

Roger Clarke 

More fun behind the candy floss

****

HE may be 64 now and his voice has lost a lot of its power, but David Essex still has loads of fans and they gave his show a standing ovation after the cleverly staged finale.

And it was deserved rather than polite, because the revamped version of the musical, staged in a fairground, is a considerable improvement on the original.

How the customers loved the line when David's character, funfair owner Levi Lee recalled having long, dark, curly hair which attracted the ladies in his younger days . . . removing his battered trilby to reveal a mostly bald and greying head!

Some of the former pop star's hits from the past are naturally featured in the musical, including A Winter's Tale, Gonna Make You a Star and Hold Me Close. He doesn't sing them all himself, and in the main he is quickly joined by other members of the cast for support when he does launch into a tune.

BLACK LEATHERS

And there is a real show stopper at the close, with Essex - in black leathers - astride a motorbike, singing Silver Dream Machine, alongside Tim Newman (Jonny) while Rob Compton (Levi's son Jack) roars high above the audience on another bike, representing the wall of death ride,

There's a touch of Carousel about this show, with a wayward young fairground barker dying before his time, love and lost love, and the odd thug for the audience to hate...Barry Bloxham (Druid), and David Burrows (Harvey).

Compton is impressive as Levi's son who has his own plans to save the ailing fairground while cheating on his loyal long term girlfriend Mary (Susan Hallam-Wright) for pretty blonde Alice (Tanya Robb). And Levi himself - tortured by the tragic death of his wife after hearing of his affair with fortune teller Rosa (Louise English) - fights off new romantic approaches from his ex lover.

All the Fun of the Fair is directed by Nikolai Foster. To 18.09.11

Paul Marston 

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