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All The Fun Of The Fair

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 16th Feb 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

David Essex (Levi) ATFOTF (1).jpg

ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR 

Darlington Civic Theatre

Since it last toured to Darlington, back in September 2008, All The Fun of the Fair has enjoyed a record-breaking run at the Garrick Theatre, where it was nominated for Best New West End Musical of 2010 by What’s On Stage. It triumphantly returns to the Civic as part of its second major national tour and, yet again, fills the theatre from the stalls to the upper circle.

As the title suggests, the production is set against the backdrop of a travelling funfair that is struggling to survive in the late seventies. Inspired by David Essex’s album (also titled All The Fun of the Fair) the show is underscored by a helter-skelter of his hits but, unlike many other so-called ‘juke-box musicals’, there is a compelling and absorbing story to be told here.

David Essex reprises his role as funfair owner Levi Lee, the recently widowed father of a rebellious teenage son, Jack (Rob Compton), and, in doing so, delights his legions of female fans with each twinkle of the eye and every wry grin.  Older, greyer and more gravelly-voiced, it seems Essex can do no wrong in the hearts and minds of his followers and, it has to be said, he does have a certain stage presence that cannot be disputed. He is, undoubtedly, the main attraction - and he is fully aware of it – but his playing to the gallery and basking in the cat-calls and wolf-whistles can easily be forgiven because of his generosity in giving away some of his best-known hits to other members of the cast.

Louise English, as the sultry gypsy clairvoyant, Rosa, and Essex’s leading lady, rewards the above-mentioned generosity with a spine-tingling performance of ‘A Winter’s Tale’. Indeed, she puts in a show-stopping performance as the feisty fortune-telling femme-fatale and the sexual chemistry between the pair is strong enough to illuminate every flashing bulb in the fairground.

louiseenglishasrosa.jpg 

Other stand-out performances are given by Tim Newman as Jonny, a simple-minded young outcast who ran away from an orphanage and found a sense of belonging amongst the travellers; Susan Hallam-Wright as Mary, Rosa’s daughter who carries a torch for Jack; and Barry Bloxham as Druid, the hapless henchman of the local heavy, Harvey (David Burrows).

A number of changes, to both cast and storyline, have been made since the production last toured and played the West End – all of which are for the better. The production values are second to none, boasting an extremely evocative funfair set (complete with dodgem cars, barrows and stalls), a talented, hard-working cast and some great sound and lighting effects which add a real air of authenticity to the proceedings. The storyline, which never depicted an overly-romanticised view of a travelling funfair, is now darker, grittier and edgier in places and does not attempt to gloss over the violence which often accompanies such a way of life.

All The Fun of the Fair is, undoubtedly, a crowd-puller. However, given that most of the crowd in Darlington on press night were forty or fifty-something female David Essex devotees, it is perhaps inevitable that it would be.

That aside, this is a musical which has much to offer and certainly has the potential to run and run. One hardly needs to gaze into Rosa’s crystal ball to see that it has a long and successful future ahead.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs at Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday 18 February, then continues to tour nationally until April.

 

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