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Sweet Charity
Published on Monday, 22 August 2011

1 stars

C venues - C (venue website)
14-29 Aug, 9:30pm-10:45pm
Reviewed by Eve Nicol

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Transferring Cy Coleman and Neil Simons' chirpy 1960s musical about a dancer-for-hire's search for love to the "seedy world of New York's gay scene" is a smart and legitimate premise, that should work. Should.

What the Northern Theatre Company present is a querulous, empty-stomached production with absolutely no sense of self-awareness.  The quality of performance is more that found at an East End pub knees-up than in the slick, dangerous underworld of fetish bars. The predominantly male cast sing in an unenthusiastic single tone, around a rather lonely-sounding keyboard that makes up the sole musical accompaniment for the show.

Fumbling and uncoordinated, the cast could well have made up the choreography on the spot. One wonders what is going on behind the uniformly dead eyes of the chorus as they shuffle uncomfortably around the set. The show's convincingly grimy urinal setting may be lifted right from a George Michael video, but the wooden performances evoke those of a primary school nativity play.

The bath-house "Rhythm of Life" is well-conceived but the execution turns into unintentional pantomime, with infrequent bursts of a smoke machine and awkward sexual posturing. The full-frontal nudity is completely unnecessary.

The lead performer is a saving grace; his Charity Hope Valentine is likeable, and he carries the show admirably. He channels a little of John Barrowman in both looks and easy warmth. There is no need to worry about the largely unamplified vocal performances, as the lead appears to be backing up the script with a wildly gesticulated simultaneous semaphore interpretation.

The company do well to carry on through the constant cat-calls and laughter derived from their endeavours, even when tripping spectacularly across the set. If only they would realise that what they have produced is no grimy piece of social commentary but a rough and ready celebration of camp, they could well attract an appreciative underground audience.  As it was, a fair proportion of those there cringed quietly and left in silent horror; but most could not hold back their disbelief and relaxed into flabbergasted chortling with each blackout.

I was stopped later the same night by a couple of audience members who, unprompted, squawked their contrary recommendation to me. "It's completely terrible! Awful! You really must see it!" If the company can take hold of this, and perform with more of a wink and a nod to their own shortcomings, they might just have a cult hit on their hands.

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