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A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre in association with Dreamtower presents


The Roar of the Greasepaint
- The Smell of the Crowd


Book, Music and Lyrics by
Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley


Directed by Ian Judge


Designed by Tim Goodchild


Lighting Design by Mark Doubleday


Choreography by Tim Jackson


Musical Direction by Ross Leadbeater


Finborough Theatre


7 June – 2 July 2011



The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd opened at the Theatre Royal Nottingham, in August 1964 with Norman Wisdom, however it never enjoyed the same degree of success it did across the pond, where it ran on Broadway for over 200 performances. Whether the musical’s lack of success in this country was down to poor publicity and lack of interest or, its content being a little too close to the bone... Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's music hall romp still retains a by gone charm of old Blighty, governed by an Imperialist class system before the impact of mass immigration.

The game of life unfolds between Cocky (Matthew Ashforde) and Sir (Oliver Beamish) on Tim Goodchild's seven sins, board game style circus set. Cocky is trapped, the eternal loser in the game of life dominated by Sir, the ring leader of a pack of white faced urchins, dressed as mimes who mock and jeer at Cocky's desperate attempts to escape the cycle of dependence, due to his being born working class. However when a black man turns up, (Tahir Ozkan) and Cocky treats him exactly as Sir treats him, it becomes apparent Cocky and Sir are ineluctably bound together by class, in roles defined by their opposition to one another.

Ashforde as the cadaverous Cocky in dented Bowler hat and collar and tie, but no shirt, resembles a Victorian undertaker as he makes a sterling effort to keep the audience entertained. His "With all due respect" number provides a cathartic experience for audience and actor alike for the systematic abuse he suffers from Sir. Ashforde adopts an East End accent appropriate for the role, but there was a definite sense that he was straining at times to reach notes, yet considering the size of the role, his efforts should be commended.

Beamish's rotund Sir, in bow tie, tails and binoculars round his neck looks every inch an aristocrat, but acts every inch a hypocrite. He chastises Cocky for the seven deadly sins he embodies, chewing on a chicken leg as he brands him a glutton. Beamish charmingly captures the mores of an absolute bastard who claims to uphold such British traditions as fair play and stability but ruthlessly makes up the rules as he goes along, to protect his position. Beamish carries the jaunty melodies with insouciant verve as Ross Leadbeater's live piano merrily rambles along, cut with sharp bursts of Beamishs's whistle.

The minx-some chorus girls cackling and bitter sweet singing is at times, a little too sharp for such a small space. The urchins’ movements are tight, adeptly organized by Tim Jackson's choreography into a gleefully mean body of performers, sensitive to a combined identity. Lucy Watts as The Kid adds a menacing presence, as Cocky's competition and Sir's lapdog.

The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd is definitely a show of its time and though its message is not as relevant to the multiculturalism and Capitalist opportunity of modern Britain's 'Big Society,' it still shows the inherent tendentiousness of the Establishment. An element of Sir's Godlike status still survives today in the judges who preside over our courts, although there is no concession to their power. In Judge's production, the musical numbers are tight and the acting all on form, making the most out of Bricusse and Newley's dated lyrics. Ozkan's version of 'Feeling Good' is spine tingling, actually taking us there to see the "birds flying high/ sun in the sky" through his soulful voice.

We are all held by conventions of society to an extent, and although the game of life may not be so monochromatic, we still have to play by the rules that those in power have the power to break.

Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
SW10 9ED
7 June – 2 July 2011
7.30 pm, Sat matinee, 3.00 pm

£15.00 - £20.00


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