As I left The Old Joint Stock into St Paul’s Square, Birmingham, I saw a sizeable section of my fellow audience members from this evening’s performance all climbing rather delicately into a small coach. Judging by the amount of glasses and bottles left behind by these ladies (for this party was entirely female) inside the auditorium of this pub theatre, I think they had decided before they arrived that they were going to have a good time, whatever happened on stage. Judging by the audience response after the climactic dance routine I’m sure however that their enjoyment was not simply down to the amount of alcohol consumed in this beautiful old public house.
I was certain very early that the audience would be in for a great evening out, as this is a production packed with performances right out of the top drawer. The vocals throughout the show were universally excellent and David Yazbek’s funky and colourful score was confidently delivered, whether it be the powerhouse ladies in It’s a woman’s world or Jeanette’s Showbiz Number; or the beautifully poignant men with Breeze off the river and You walk with me. The balance with the band in the attic, lead by MD Jack Hopkins was excellent, and we never felt overpowered in the small venue. But what struck me most in this production, however, was the quality of the acting. The immediacy and intimacy affords afforded by the size of the venue lent the dramatic scenes in Terrence McNally’s book a power I’d not seen in previous productions.
Pam Lukowski has always felt a bit superfluous when I’ve seen the show previously, particularly as she has relatively little to do in the big musical numbers. Here, played strongly by Auriol Hatcher she was right in the centre of the drama, a catalyst pushing her ex-husband Jerry to desperate ends. Alex Wadham holds the show together in the central role with energy and sensitivity and the scenes between the couple and also Jerry and his son Nathan (played by James Blake-Butler on press night) were beautifully played.
Oliver Britten and Sam Carlyle were perfectly matched as overweight, depressed Dave and his supportive wife Georgie. The closeness of their relationship was palpable in the second You rule my world. The show’s other couple Harold and Vicki (Jenefer Trapp and Rhys Owen) also formed a well-balanced partnership, both in their opening Latin number and the more poignant later scenes. The burgeoning friendship of Jack Ballard’s Ethan and Duncan Burt’s Malcolm was likewise beautifully judged and entirely believable. Kirstie Cartwright and Aaron Mwale have the always unenviable task of aging up but both do it with confidence, with both their numbers being joyous highlights of the show. Brad Walwyn was also excellent as the camp stripper who sets the show in motion (as well as supporting the company in a variety of cameos).
Credit to director Adam Lacey and the cast for getting pacing of the show so well. The big numbers were all delivered with confidence and energy, but the delicate scenes were never overshadowed. Quite the opposite in fact; they were the beating heart of this production and gave the show a real depth I’d not appreciated before.
And so to the Finale of the production and I don’t think I’ve seen a dance routine performed with more sheer enjoyment and fun for a long time. Choreographer Pippa Lacey has whipped the men into shape (of sorts!) and produced a finale that is both amateurish in style but professional in delivery. Let’s just say it doesn’t disappoint and left the audience on their feet, and justifiably so. Old Joint Stock has another triumph on it’s hands.
The show runs at until 1st September.
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