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A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Boys of the Empire Productions Present

 

 

Cleveland Street The Musical

 

 

 Left to right: Adam Elliott as Ernest Thickbroom, Josh Boyd-Rochford as Charles Hammond, Paul Brangan as John Saul, Fanni Compton as Madam Caroline, Michael Anderson as Thomas Swinscow, Ashley Martin as Henry Newlove

Photo credit: Derek Drescher

 
Book & Lyrics by Glenn Chandler
 
Music by Matt Devereaux
 
Director & Choreographer: Tim McArthur
 
Designer: Fiona Russell

 

 

Above the Stag Theatre

 

26 April to 29 May 2011

 

Have the Royal Wedding's straight laced celebrations filled you with a hankering for something a little more racy? Did the sight of Prince William in his fine scarlet livery set your pulse racing? Did the cherubic faces of choir boys in Westminster Abbey... “ahem, Sir!” Apologies Dear Reader if  I have offended, but truly, if you're looking for a good old fashioned musical about child prostitution and brothels in Victorian London, well then, why not take a stroll down to Glenn Chandler's riotous début musical, Cleveland Street.

19 Cleveland Street was an infamous brothel during the late nineteenth century, run by male  'Madam', Charles Hammond (Josh Boyd- Rochford) and his saucy wife, Madame Caroline, a French whore, (Fanni Compton). Their predilection - catering for gentleman who prefer boys. When one of their most loyal clients, a certain Lord Euston, (Joe Shefer) innocuously suggests the possibility of recruiting some of the Telegraph Messenger boys of St Martins Le Grand for a bit of slap and tickle, the couple find it impossible to resist. Thus a trio of sniggering, young boys in smart, blue uniforms arrive on the scene. Henry Newlove (Ashely Martin) the most experienced of the lot shows Thomas Swinscow (Michael Anderson) and Earnest Thickbroom (Adam Elliott) the ropes as it becomes apparent that letters were not the only things being exchanged in the basement of the General Post Office building. However, as the brothel grows in notoriety and the coffers grow fat, they start to attracted unwanted attention, until Inspector Abberline (Josh Boyd- Rochford) begins to investigate.

Despite dealing with what we would usually deem highly sensitive subject matter, Chandler has created a musical that manages to evoke the bawdiness and irreverence of the Victorian era. For in his defence, according to the evidence from the actual court case where they were tried, these rent boys were more than willing to make an extra buck and had not been pressured into a life of debauchery. Now with the disclaimer out of the way, we can get on to the business of singing this outrageously funny musical's praises.

Chandler's lyrics are pithy, full of double entendres and puns, which make for some great moments. At times his script has an almost Wildean spirit to it, as he mocks the hypocrisy of the establishment, admirably embodied by Joe Shefer. Shefer is a versatile actor, able to parody each member of the aristocracy he plays with great control. Contrasting the devious sexual nature of Lord Euston with the Epicurean orgies of the excitable 'Mr White', Shefer is consistently credible and frequently hilarious. His dynamic with Boyd-Rochford's male Madam who attempts to maintain an element of respectability in his presence despite the disreputable nature of his profession is highly amusing. Full of saucy one liners, Boyd-Rochford surges through the theatre as Fanni Compton, his wife, insults him in an entertainingly pronounced Gallic accent. Compton as the only female member of the cast, clucks about in her elaborate eighteenth century dress, her bustle protruding out like the tail of a mother hen strutting along, portraying a shrewish sense of experience beyond her years. Paul Brangan as John Saul, the elder rent boy, swaggers about in a fine suit of tweed, bestowing his pearls of indecency in a heart warming Irish accent. Brangan has a strong presence on the stage which contrasts enjoyably with the timidity of the Telegraph boys who arrive on the scene, a spark of mischief gleaming out from under the peaks of their caps. Martin as the most experienced rent boy, Newlove, dominates Elliott and Anderson like an older brother, unimpressed by their blubbering excitement. Elliott and Anderson are a humorous couple. Anyone searching for a definition of fresh faced, needs look no further than Anderson's risible expressions.

The Piano, Cello and Woodwind which accompany the play, provide the jaunty harmony to the raucous songs and invigourate the overall bawdy energy of the piece. McArthur's direction is particularly effective, given the narrow limitations of the stage and the size of the cast, yet it is his choreography that is really the icing on the cake. The sight of the ensemble in black waistcoats, all nodding and bending their heads in unison to the lyrics of Climbing the Ladder, Passing the Buck is hilarious, bringing to mind the classic, rowdy nature of the Music Hall tradition Chandler draws upon.

Given such a small space, Russell has worked wonders at recreating the interior of a house of sin. From the velvet drapes to the Chaise Longue of the Crimson Room, the set is incredibly immersive, coming into its own under the red and purple lightings. The costumes too are of a very high standard, whether it's a velvet smoking jacket or a tweed suit. Clearly a lot of effort and attention has gone into ensuring the play has the appropriate aesthetic.

Chandler has outdone himself with Cleveland Street The Musical, as enjoyable as it is offensive. This is the kind of theatre that draws on the great English traditions of the Music Hall, Carry On films and Ealing Comedies, an effervescent England that has somewhat faded, out of popular culture, where you can get away with puns about jugs or loyal members. Song titles such as ‘Rum, Buggery and The Lash’and ‘There Ought To Be A Law’ leave little to the imagination but that is part and parcel with the sexually anarchic spirit of the play. This is a strong ensemble cast well suited to their roles and exceptionally well booted, able to shift from song to dialogue with absolute ease. So go and have a peep down Cleveland Street and indulge in a night that will have you wishing you were back in the audacious 1880's, surrounded by gormless messenger boys in togas and laurel wreaths, dropping their kecks with such frequency, it might even have made Kenneth Williams blush.

 

 
Left to right:Adam Elliott as Ernest Thickbroom, Ashley Martin as Henry Newlove, Michael Anderson as Thomas Swinscow

 Photo credit: Derek Drescher

 

Above the Stag Theatre
15 Bressenden Place,
London SW1E 5DD
Dates:Tue 26 April to Sun 29 May 2011
Time: Tue to Sat at 7.30pm; Sun at 6pm
£15 from 3 to 29 May
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
http://www.clevelandstreetthemusical.com/
 

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