Review – Gang Show 2011

November 25, 2011 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩     A promise

King’s Theatre: Tue 22 – Sat 26 Nov 2011
Review by Thom Dibdin

Entertainment is at the heart of Gang Show 2011, just as it was for the very first show in the 1930s. But it has evolved and matured in the meantime and there is an edge of menace about this very 21st century production.

The whole show is still firmly built on the variety formula introduced by Gang Show founder Ralph Reader back in 1932. And director Andy Johnston knows exactly how to use the mix of music, dance and comedy to ensure that the whole is structured and paced to maximum advantage.

A scene from A Proposal in this year’s show.

A scene from A Proposal in this year’s show.

It’s in the individual elements that the menace slips in. The opening number, Our Manifesto, makes better use of Take That’s Kidz than the middle-aged man band ever have. The full gang of 210 – there’s a 50-strong section of brownies who alternate nightly, giving a total of 260 performers over the run – give it an edge which Take That’s rather plummy rendition never achieves.

“Welcome to the future of the world, not sure what the future holds,” they sing in their anachronistically pastel t-shirts. Before adding in almost a whisper that carries an ominous sense of menace: “But we all know, there’ll be trouble when the kids come out.”

This isn’t a threat – it’s a promise. It might not be exactly revolutionary, but it is change of emphasis that chimes with contemporary sensibilities. More to the point, it was delivered with such clarity that no one would have had to turn their hearing aid up to catch the words.

No such luck for the second number, LOL. A quick-witted comic song, written by Johnston, that trades to great effect on text-speak and mobile phones. The butt of the humour here is both topical – Vlad apparently only texts to give his managers the push – and social – the way conversation is replaced by electronic communication.

clear and cutting

All very well delivered in front of the curtain by a small group of younger members of the main gang. The words were clear and cutting – except that the tune’s nicely rising ending lifted their voices beyond the comfort zone of their upper register, rendering nearly every punch-line unintelligible.

A scee from What Ever Happened to...

A scee from What Ever Happened to...

That was the one moment in the whole night where the production slipped below three star status. It was quickly back on track, however, for the first big dance number of the evening: What Ever Happened To… in this case the question is Saturday Night – with a medley of Meatloaf’s Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul, and Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright (for fighting).

It is in these big dance numbers – here a rock’n’roll influenced routine – that your heart goes out to dance director Louise Williamson. What really impresses is her ability to get so much energy and movement on stage, with so many performers and in what is such a small space. This is dance writ large – with big, broad brushstrokes. Not always as in time as you might like and, as it is a long night, there is a need for the whole cast to retain focus all the time they are on stage.

Not that there was any such difficulty for the youngest members of the company as the junior gang took on the vagaries of One Night, One Moment, a nativity-based number using songs from the little known comedy film Nativity!. The original was not a huge success, but the junior gang made a bold fist of it.

Comedy

When it comes to the pure comedy routines, the gang come into their element. Singing and dancing is one thing, but delivering comedy so that it is audible right to the back of the auditorium while ensuring that it has enough pace to carry the sketch is quite another skill entirely.

What Johnston excels at is in the writing of contemporary comedy which is accessible to wide ranging audience in age terms – from the young cub and brownies to the mums, dads and grandparents. This year’s sketches were no exception. The Inventors pitched the trio of Bell, Baird and Watt into a confrontation with the future of their inventions.

But it was in Over the Sea, a piece set around Bonnie Prince Charlie, that the comedy worked best. A whole bunch of contemporary personalities, including an eternally dithering Alex Salmond, were added into the mix to provide jokes which went further than the lazy offering of the trams.

This is great stuff all round – which picks up a big jot in a straight four-star second half with big numbers using material from Take That, Queen and, in particular, Les Miserables.

A touch more concentration all the way through would have pushed this all up into four star territory. But this particular generation of the gang of very strong indeed, and one suspects that their best is yet to come. No trouble.

Run ends Saturday

ENDS

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