Bridewell Theatre, Blackfriars, London, 10/07/2019.
The Sedos Theatre Company’s adaptation of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying was an absolute triumph, and one of the best things I’ve seen on the London stage in years, if not decades. Now they’ve followed it up with another musical, Soho Cinders by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles, but unfortunately it’s nowhere near as good. That’s not down to anything to do with Sedos however, once again the acting and directing on display is impressive, it’s just that the source material isn’t that great.
An updated version of Cinderella it features a young gay man called Robbie (Alex Stephenson) who runs a launderette previously owned by his mother with his best friend Velcro (Kat Knight) on Old Compton Street in Soho. Unfortunately for him his mother has died without leaving a will, and it looks like he’s going to lose the launderette to his step-father and two (ugly) step sisters (Maria Waters and Michelle Bock). His love life is a mess as well as he’s falling for London Mayoral candidate James Prince (Jacob Botha), who has a fiancee, Marilyn (Caroline Hart), while he’s also in a complicated sugar daddy relationship with Prince’s financial backer, Lord Bellingham (David Pearson).
The biggest problem with the production is that it ignores the old adage that you should “Show, Not Tell”. So while we’re repeatedly informed that Robbie is the most fantastic guy, and that his relationship with the much older James Prince is a love story for the ages, there’s no evidence of this, we rarely see them together due to Prince’s complicated life and though Robbie seems decent enough his character desperately needs fleshing out. Also an issue is the portrayal of the two ugly step-sisters, with the script repeatedly making fun of their appearance, mocking their size and looks in a way that left a very unpleasant taste in my mouth and it would have been far better if it had concentrated on their ugly souls.
At two and a half hours it’s undoubtedly overlong too, there’s way too much filler in the first half and then somewhat oddly the ending is rather rushed, and undeserved too. Robbie gets the happiest of endings which feels a tad forced, and the villain of the piece gets his comeuppance off stage in a scene which is misjudged, as it would have been a far more satisfying piece if we’d seen him get pulled up over his behaviour rather than just hearing about it. Some of the humour is a little broad too, and it’s a play which hasn’t dated too well what with it having references to Steve Brookstein and Susan Boyle.
It’s frustrating as at it’s core there is a really fun play here, the cast are all superb, the subplot concerning the failing relationship between Prince and his fiancee Marilyn is beautifully portrayed, with Marilyn having many of the best scenes which includes a truly lovely duet with Velcro where they muse about the men they love and what they need to do to find happiness. There’s some fun political satire when it comes to Prince’s mayoral campaign, and the moments with his PR manager (and the show’s bad guy) William George (Paul Matania) contain some of the show’s funniest scenes, with Matania being especially charming and amusingly twisted.
The songs are something of a mixed bag but at their best (Who’s That Boy?, They Don’t Make Glass Slippers, The Tail That Wags The Dog) they’re enormously infectious, the staging of them is considerably entertaining, and as mentioned all of the cast deserve plaudits. It’s just a shame that it’s such a flabby creation, if they cut 45 minutes or so, sharpened up the script and developed the central relationship between Robbie and Prince it could have been something rather special, but as it is it’s only a partially successful production, and one I can only cautiously recommend.