Review: I Should Be So Lucky, New Wimbledon Theatre
By Jenny Booth
Main image (c) Marc Brenner
One day they will make a real Kylie Minogue musical and I’ll be there in the front row with popcorn. (That back catalogue! Those outfits! Jason!) But until that day we can make do with the digital Kylie who appears at moments of emotional turmoil in the new musical I Should Be So Lucky, dispensing pre-recorded advice to the heroine to channel her inner pop princess. “Strong! Beautiful! Fabulous!” she breathes, like a sexy fairy godmother in a magical mirror, slowly writhing in a sequinned sheath with a light wind blowing her hair. Absurd twists in the plot leave poor put-upon Ella (played with warmth and charm by Lucie-Mae Sumner) frequently in need of the diva’s advice. She is jilted at the altar, but dragged off to her honeymoon hotel anyway by all her female relatives, including her grandmother (Jemma Churchill) who gets a vajazzle. Once there she is condescended to by bitchy former schoolmate Olivia (an acid-tongued Anna Unwin), hit on by a romantic resort manager Nadeem (Matthew Croke), followed around in a series of ridiculous costumes by her remorseful groom Nathan (Billy Roberts), wrongly blamed and generally treated like a doormat; until the day she finally (finally!) realises she has to take life by the scruff of the neck and do what she wants. When this happens, every other character in the show suddenly and implausibly couples up and there is a mass wedding on the beach. Hurrah!
MORE FAB THINGS TO DO:
This is a cheerful, upbeat and silly show, that delivers plenty of laughs, many of them courtesy of best man Ash (Giovanni Spano) who refuses to let Nathan admit defeat. Among the frantic striving and general misbehaviour there is every now and then a touching moment, as when Ella’s sister Bonnie (Kayla Carter) admits her feelings for Ash, or when her mum Shelley (Melissa Jacques) duets with her husband about love slipping away. The show channels Shirley Valentine with its take on Brits in love tangles abroad, and Mamma Mia! in the way it shoehorns one iconic pop hit after another into an improbable plot. Actually, though, it is neither of those films – it’s a jolly farce, that subjects a bunch of larger-than-life characters to increasingly stressful situations, thus forcing them to resort to ever more extreme behaviour. No surprise, then, that the show was written and directed by Debbie Isitt, who directed four Nativity! films.
I loved Tom Rogers’ elegant set, themed on hearts – when Ella is jilted a massive stained glass heart symbolically breaks in two, and the whole stage is framed by the arches of four concentric hearts, in the style of the closing credits in an old Looney Tunes cartoon. The cast and ensemble worked their socks off to perform Jason Gilkison’s furiously energetic choreography (think Strictly Ballroom, not Strictly Come Dancing). And the music – well, they have plundered a procession of massive chart toppers from the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory of the late 1980s. The title number (a number one for Kylie in 1988) is followed by Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ (1.4 billion hits on YouTube, and counting), Jason Donovan’s ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’, Mel and Kim’s barnstormer ‘Respectable’, Bananarama’s ‘Venus’ and Dead and Alive’s 1986 ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’, every single one a number one. Isitt had ingeniously chosen snippets of song that fitted specific moments in the plot. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the other way round – she wrote the plot to fit the songs. The live band directed by John Hodgson delivered them all with relish and attack, and the audience had a singalong at the end.