Bridewell Theatre, Blackfriars, London, 25/05/2019.
Ever read a review which is so full of gushing praise that you feel the critic must somehow be involved with the production, or is sleeping with someone who is at the very least? Well this is going to be one of them but I can state right now that before today I’d not even heard of this astonishingly lovable musical staged by the Sedos Theatre Company, let alone anyone involved in it, it’s just one of those rare occasions where a play deserves every bit of acclaim it receives.
First staged back in 1961, and later adapted as a film in 1967, it’s based on the 1952 book of the same name and revolves around the young, optimistic and career driven J. Pierrepont Finch (James Legatt) who starts work at the World Wide Wickets company in the mail room but thanks to reading How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying he quickly climbs the corporate ladder, finding the time for a little romance with secretary Rosemary (Miranda Evans) on the side as well. But soon nearly everyone around him is jealous of his newfound success, the big boss’s nephew Bud Frump (Matt Young) especially, and it seems like it’s going to be only a matter of time before he’s heading for a fall.
The plot isn’t exactly the most complicated or convoluted then, and with a running time of over two and a half hours (including a fifteen minute interval) you might fear that it’d be packed with filler and contrivances that really weren’t needed. This is a very rare situation where that’s not the case though, this cynical, satirical, farcical, amoral, witty and yet often affecting and sweet play flies by at an incredibly impressive rate as the script contains a huge selection of extremely funny lines beautifully performed by the cast, it’s staged in a remarkably efficient way so that there’s barely any gaps inbetween scenes, and best of all is that it has some of the funniest songs yet found in a mainstream musical.
The majority of them are bursting with charm too, from the surprisingly self-aware “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” to the attack on Sixties sexism that is “A Secretary Is Not A Toy”. Also seductively splendid is “Been A Long Day” where our lead couple finally get together, and “Cinderella, Darling”, a song I can’t describe as it’d be spoiler-ish but which is delightful throughout. Then there’s the straight out bloody funny tunes like “Coffee Break” where everyone panics when the company runs out of coffee, and “Paris Original” which sees the female staff attend a party all wearing the same style of dress, there’s genuinely not a bad number amongst them and even a lyric-less dance routine is remarkable, and I normally struggle with such things.
What makes this production all the more impressive is that it’s staged by amateurs who all have day jobs, but if you weren’t aware of this before watching it I’m convinced you wouldn’t realise in the slightest. Evans and Legatt make for fantastic leads and manage to create an incredibly likeable central couple, and Matt Young, Lauren Clarke and David Robson are also notably exquisite, but all of the very large cast are quite frankly stunning, there isn’t even a less than superb performance from any of them and all deserve to be cast in major West End plays, if they so wish of course.
I truly don’t have a single even slightly negative thing to say about the musical, and I’d be recommending everyone drop what they’re doing and rush to see it this very second if tonight hadn’t been the last performance. But hopefully it’ll be revived either at the Bridewell or another theatre and if it is I’d suggest doing whatever you can to obtain a ticket, even if it’s selling one of your children that you really like. It’s one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen on the London stage in years and if is restaged I’ll be back to see it again at the very first performance.