Review: Pretty Woman, New Wimbledon Theatre

Review: Pretty Woman, New Wimbledon Theatre

By Jenny Booth

Main image (c) Marc Brenner


In the compendium of fairytales where love conquers all, Pretty Woman is towards the extreme end of the spectrum. Only in the 1980s (an era when people who made loads of money as City traders and were boorish in restaurants were held up as role models) could you devise a love story where the romantic couple are a prostitute and a sleek asset stripper. Only in a very unusual fairytale would a climactic scene be a shopping expedition on Hollywood’s Rodeo Drive in which the shop assistants are ordered to “suck up” to the heroine because she is a big spender. I mean, in a traditional fairytale the temperamental big spender would be one of the ugly sisters who would duly get their comeuppance.

But the film, and now this stage musical co-written by the late Garry ‘Happy Days’ Marshall with (rather one-dimensional) songs by Bryan ‘Everything I Do’ Adams, invite us to suspend our cynicism, because love conquers all. Otherwise you find you are agreeing with the loathsome, vulture-capitalist lawyer Philip Stuckey (played with a sneer by Ben Darcy) that they “both s***w people for a living”. Boo! At least we can not feel morally conflicted when the heroine Vivian gives him a right upper cut. It all gets more confusing still when, after suggesting that having loads of money is a desirable and transformative state, Vivian and the hero Edward reject their former lives to pursue their dreams instead. “I believe that I can change,” he sings, while she decides: “I choose the fairytale.”

The Company (c) Marc Brenner – NOTE: This photo shows Amber Davies in the role of Vivian, not Sydnie Hockell who played her on the night of this review.

But in theatre an audience can accept most things under the spell of talented acting. Here I must heap praise on understudy Sydnie Hocknell, who stepped in to play Vivian on review night when Amber Davies (who has been rocking the role for months) was unavailable. She brought a vulnerability to the role that was particularly effective. Oliver Savile, as Edward, showed her a touching attentiveness that went beyond just trying to convey where she should stand next. Natalie Paris, as Vivian’s friend Kit de Luca, was a vibrant presence with a singing voice that blew everyone off stage, particularly in the number ‘Rodeo Drive’.

Last but not least, Ore Oduba cuts a pivotal figure, cropping up enigmatically in different guises like an MC manipulating the action. He arranges for Vivian to have clothes to wear and teaches her to dance. As the manager of the Beverley Wilshire hotel he observes meaningfully to Edward: “It must be painful to say goodbye to something so precious,” hinting how to track Vivian down as she is about to disappear from his life. Oduba’s controlling appearances as hustler, shop proprietor, dancer and opera conductor lend the stage show a fantastical quality; this unreal feeling is accentuated by the minimalism of David Rockwell’s silhouette sets and Kenneth Posner and Philip S Rosenberg’s monochrome backlighting. All the world’s a stage, director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell seems to be telling us, so have a laugh and don’t take this story too seriously.

Pretty Woman runs at New Wimbledon Theatre until 17 February 2024. Tickets still available.