A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!




Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be

Photo by Scott Rylander

Music and Lyrics by Lionel Bart


Book by Frank Norman


Directed by Phil Willmott


Union Theatre

10 May - 4 June 2011



Imagine EastEnders as a musical written by the composer of Oliver! , set in swinging London's Soho, just as the ‘60’s sweep away the crooked cops taking money from tired brothels run by old school gangsters from the ‘50’s, and you have some idea of what to expect from this show. Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be launched the career of Barbara Windsor in the role of 'Lil', long-suffering girlfriend of Fred 'Razor King' Cochran, now played by talented Hannah-Jane Fox in this entertaining revival. The stock character of the tart with a heart who longs for a ring on her finger and a 'bungalow with no stairs' plays a pivotal role, sweeping around the feet of gambling ex-cons like 'Redhot' (Robert Donald) with no money, and bored whores 'Layin' Abaht' while 'The Ceiling's Coming Dahn'. These are some of the catchy, toe-tapping tunes sung by the deliciously decadent cast of loosely kimonoed whores in scandalous Basques and the sharp suited 'Student Ponce' junior gangsters Ronnie, Reggie and ambitious young pretender Tosher (Jo Parsons) who hang around Fred, played to the hilt by ex-Father Ted star, Neil McCaul. 

There are no subtleties involved here - Lionel Bart created a popular show that would pull in a Saturday night variety audience. There's a bit of tap dancing when the hugely camp and naturally funny Horace (Richard Foster-King) arrives to give the place a make-over in 'Contempery'. I wasn't sure whether lines complaining about 'Poofs in coffee houses' or others such as 'Our beer used to be frothy, now it's all frothy coffee' dated the performance or expressed a contemporary nostalgia for a simpler time, perhaps both. A street fight between Fred and the thugs sent by 'Meatface' sends a thrill through the cast, who revel in a good 'Carve Up'. A touching scene where Lil takes a destitute girl (Anna McNicholas) in from the cold gives rise to the musical's moral heart when she sings 'Where Do Little Birds Go?' strongly reminiscent of 'Where is Love' from Oliver!, a song I grew up singing as my party piece. Of course, Fred finally makes an honest woman of Lil, declaring 'If you've got the floor, marry an Ore', making way for the crooked Inspector Collins (Hadrian Delacey) to take over the joint with his favourite 'brass' Barbara (Suzie Chard) generous of figure and spirit who's aiming for 'The Big Time'.

There were many winning cameos from a magnificently talented cast, including the apparently cynical Betty (Ruth Alfie Adams) looking for a more managerial role in the brothel suited to her advancing age who grabs the hapless Jimmy (Ian Rixon) for a husband when everyone starts pairing up at the finale. Would you Adam and Eve it?  This show is comical, sentimental and great fun.


Photo by Scott Rylander
Union Theatre
204 Union St, London SE1 0LX
Tues - Sat: 7:30pm, Sat/Sun: 3pm
Tickets £16, Concs £13
Box Office: 020 7261 9876

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