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30 January 2013


Privates on Parade
Noel Coward Theatre, London
Wednesday 30th January 2013
Peter Nichols' "play with songs" is based upon his own time in the Combined Services Entertainment.  His fictional all-singing, all-dancing, entertainments branch of the forces however is called SADUSEA, based in Singapore and Malaysia in the post-war conscription years.  With various members of the unit living relatively openly as gay men - still illegal in the late 1940s - and spending their days choreographing and rehearsing numbers for their shows, the spirit of this play is certainly frivolous and jolly.  Not unlike the musical Cabaret however, the dark undertones of the piece are never far from the surface, and the juxtaposition of these against the musical numbers make for a compelling story.

Simon Russell Beale is fabulous as the cross-dressing Captain, who runs the unit and the show.  Flamboyant and effervescent, he prances about the stage dressed variously as Marlene Dietrich, Vera Lynn and, in particularly hilarious costume, as Carmen Miranda.  A comfortable singer, Beale does the musical numbers artistic justice and delivers them with pizazz, but also touches with moments of real pathos. 

Although wonderful, Beale is not alone in the success of his performance, surrounded by a top-notch company on all sides.  Particularly good was Mark Lewis Jones as Sergeant Major Reg Drummond, as stereotypically angry as a Sergeant Major should be he delivered some hilarious lines, but maintained a shady and uncomfortable deeper level to the character.  Also, John Marquez as the simple, loyal Corporal Len Bonny and Harry Hepple as Lance Corporal Charles Bishop, both just as excellent in the song and dance numbers as all of the cast, but also managing to create a believably honest and heartbreaking relationship.  Hilarious and ideally pitched, the whole cast moulded and highlighted their individual characters whilst generously ensuring that each worked equally as part of the overall ensemble.  

An impressive opening to the year-long extended season from director Michael Grandage.  With £10 day seats available every day, this is an accessible and hugely entertaining production with only a few weeks left to run - catch it while you can!

1 comment:

  1. It was the very best of British theatre, Laura. Your review says it all.