Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 5 May 2015

Bugsy Malone

Lyric Hammersmith ⋄ 11th April - 1st August 2015

Bring the happy.

Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney: Lots of things to talk about here.  Lots. We’re definitely going to have to talk about the movie and nostalgia and the weight of expectation. And we’re obviously going to have to talk about the performances – because some of those kids were just dazzling. And we’re probably also going to have to talk about the choreography, which was pretty amazing – so complex and intricate considering the ages of the performers. And we’re going to have to talk about the cute, because there was a whole lot of cute on that stage. And the knowingness of it, the way the whole show feels full of little winks to the audience. And the splurge, we’ll need to talk about that too. And I don’t think we can get away without talking about the building, all the new facilities and all the changes they’ve made to it, and how the production feels entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Lyric while also feeling like a pretty canny bit of programming from Sean Holmes. But that’s all going to have to wait because firstly we need to talk about the happy. Because I bounced home from the theatre. And I woke up feeling bouncy. And I might have actually had a little sing the morning after as I was making myself a coffee. You guys looked pretty happy afterwards too…

Catherine Love: Happy is probably an understatement. I had a stupid grin plastered on my face from the first few bars onwards, I had a stupid grin plastered on my face for the rest of the night, and I still had a stupid grin plastered on my face this morning. This Bugsy is essentially joy three times distilled. It’s hard to know how much of that is tied up with nostalgia, but the beauty of Sean Holmes’ production is that it manages to deftly tip its fedora to the show’s past without ever becoming a slave to it. In the knowing gesture to the audience at the opening of “Bad Guys”, in Fat Sam’s nod of satisfaction as his (envy-inducing) pedal car rolls onstage, in the brandishing of those splurge guns, there’s a winking acknowledgement: we know you love this, and we love it too. But crucially, it never attempts to replicate the film. The Lyric’s production is deliberately, gleefully theatrical, revelling in the clash of old and new, of ornate proscenium arch and gleaming, refurbished building. And in that sense, it’s hard to imagine a better show to reopen the building with.

Tim Bano: Many shows, although very good, still allow a bit of room for dispassion. They still let you sit back and judge the thing on its merits and disappointments. Bugsy didn’t. I wouldn’t let it. I knew in the opening bars that I would love it, and even if there were any moments that fell short I was so overwhelmingly in benefit-of-the-doubt mood that doubt was non-existent. You’re right Catherine, Holmes’ production is a different beast from the film, though it still captures all that noirish, prohibition gangster nostalgia. Bugsy the film paid loving homage to film, while this theatrical Bugsy does exactly the same for theatre. We, the audience, are the seedy clientele in Fat Sam’s Speakeasy. And, when the kid cast is in full flow – whether that’s expertly executing the complex choreography or singing the iconic songs – we’re given quite a show. 

Natasha Tripney: I’ll admit to also being geared up to like it for the start, a feeling seeded by the fact it was on the telly over Christmas. I watched it on the sofa at my mum’s house – nostalgia chased with cake and sloe gin. But even taking that into account, this is a gem of a production. Drew McOnie’s choreography was pretty spectacular, wasn’t it? Not for one second does he give these kids a pass. There are some really elaborate routines, particularly the So You Want to Be a Boxer sequence – which wins bonus points for featuring Secret Theatre alum Hammed Animashaun as Leroy. That’s a masterstroke of casting right there, both for the sense of continuity it brings to the production and the sheer fun of the juxtaposition between this huge guy and tiny, tiny Bugsy – played, at the performance we saw, by the effortlessly charismatic Daniel Purves. And, yes, OK it’s something of an easy joke, but it’s also a very effective one. There were some cracking vocal performances too, the stand out for me being Thea Lamb’s Blousey Brown; she took one of the least likeable characters of the film and made her warm and engaging on stage. There was an astonishing richness, control and maturity to her voice too – real skill.    

Catherine LoveI love that some small drop of the boldness and cheekiness of Secret Theatre was allowed to spill over into Bugsy Malone, which some might cynically see as the populist polar opposite of the Lyric’s programme over the last two years. The last thing I saw on that stage was the final performance of the heart-soaring A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts, and Bugsy doesn’t feel like as much of a departure from that as you might expect. That’s not to mention that both had me wanting to jump up and dance on stage with the cast at the end – though I think I might struggle a bit with Drew McOnie’s (as you point out, dazzling) choreography. The kids we saw in the leads were pretty impressive across the board, I thought. Thea Lamb completely transformed the usually ineffectual role of Blousey for me, Daniel Purves was just great asBugsy, Max Gill was a solid if unsurprising Fat Sam, and Samantha Allison as Tallulah managed the not inconsiderable feat of overcoming the memory of Jodie Foster’s brilliant performance in the film. Then, of course, there was the aww-factor in Ashton Henry-Reid’s performance as Fizzy, which brings us back to the cute. And yes, it was cute, but I think Holmes’ production – in the same way as something like Matilda the Musical – stays just the right side of that line.

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Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.

Bugsy Malone Show Info


Directed by Sean Holmes

Cast includes Busgy: Sasha Gray, Michael Matias, Daniel Purves; Blousey Brown: Zoe Brough, Thea Lamb, Eleanor Worthington-Cox; Tallulah: Samantha Allison, Sophia Decaro, Asanda Jezile; Fat Sam: Max Gill, James Okulaja, Jenson Steele; Dandy Dan: Oliver Emery, Jaydon Harris-Wallace, Tahj Miles; Fizzy: Ashton Henry Reid, Marley Lockhart, William Wright-Neblett; Lena / Babyface: Jamila Ajadi, Emily Beacock, Leah Levman. Ensemble: Hammed Animashaun, Miles Barrow, Katie Blythe, Isaac Gryn, Ainsley Hall Ricketts, Dominic Harrison, Cristina Hoey, Katie Lee, Jacques Miche, Rachel Moran, Lauran Rae, Lucy Thomas, Dale White, Jermaine Woods

Link http://www.lyric.co.uk/

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