Jukebox musicals are a much-sneered at genre, and it’s easy to see why: after all, what theatrical artistry is there in using a flimsy plot to string together a selection of other people’s songs? But while Jackie The Musical is unlikely to convert anyone predisposed against the format, taken on its own merits it’s enormous fun: good natured, energetic and with just enough bite to make it more than a 70s night nostalgia fest.
The story is slight and unsubtle: protagonist Jackie (see what they did there?) is a middle aged woman in crisis: about to get divorced and having to move house because her husband left her for a younger woman, while trying to convince her son that college is a better bet than his (terrible) band, and dipping her toes in the waters of online dating with the prosecco-fuelled encouragement of her friend, Jill. While packing up for the move, she comes across a box filled with the magazines of her youth, and wonders what her younger self would make of how life turned out.
So there’s nothing particularly original here, from the estranged husband realising the grass isn’t always greener to the boozy best mate, but it doesn’t really matter. Mike James’ book is surprisingly sharp and littered with good lines – there was plenty of knowing laughter from a mainly female, mainly older audience which suggested plenty of the barbs hit home (when one of the characters committed a particularly heinous piece of marital chicanery, he was booed offstage with more passion than a panto villain).
Janet Dibley is a likeable, relatable lead, and if she’s less comfortable in some of the more power-packed numbers, that feels in-keeping with her character. As her son, Michael Hamway has the sweet sincerity of a teenager, and is responsible for one of the standout numbers of the show, an athletic, impassioned rendition of 20th Century Boy (another is Bob Harms’ stomping Tiger Feet medley, which makes you forgive – just – the fact that his character is little more than Comedy Foreigner). Lori Hayley Fox as Jill is the wing-woman we all should have, and Nicholas Bailey brings enormous charisma to his role as Jackie’s potential suitor, while Tricia Adele-Turner and Graham Bickley both fare well despite their paper-thin characters. As Young Jackie, Daisy Steere nicely captures the naiveté of 70s youth – when you didn’t realise the reason your crush was into dancing more than dating you was because he was gay, or you try and assess a boy’s character by a magazine quiz – but balances it with emotional honesty: importantly, we’re never laughing at Jackie (either young version or old) but right alongside her.
A talented ensemble is directed with verve by Anna Linstrum, and well served by Arlene Phillips’ choreography and Jim Shortall’s gloriously colourful costumes and set. The songs are, in the main, well chosen, and there are enough references to the magazine to appeal to those who read it without alienating those who didn’t: in the end, this is just an undemanding, uplifting tale of an ordinary woman finding her way. And if it’s a night out best enjoyed with a couple of glasses of fizz and a gaggle of your friends, it’s no worse off for that.
Jackie the Musical is on in Brighton until 9th April. Click here for tickets.