Currently showing at the Union Theatre is Julian Woolford’s adaptation of Lionel Bart’s failed musical Twang!! According to a 1966 issue of The Montreal Gazette, Bart’s musical was “the most expensive flop ever presented in the city.” It was performed 43 times and received many scathing reviews which led to the end of its tenure at the West End. Bart, the same songwriter who gave musical lovers ‘Oliver!’, lost his personal fortune because of the many failings of Twang!!: lack of a strong script; a badly underwritten part for Robin Hood; absence of comradery between the choreographer, writer and designers and, even, concerns over Bart’s recreational drug and alcohol usage.
In 2008, Woolford was commissioned to write a new book for the musical by the Estate of Lionel Bart. The current Head of Musical Theatre at Guildford School of Acting saw his adaptation performed first in 2013. Now in 2018, with direction from Bryan Hodgson and arrangement and orchestration by Richard John and Oli Jackson, there’s tons of fun and laughter to be experienced in this highly energetic, camp and tuneful production. Compared to fifty-two years ago there’s a lot more collaboration between the stronghold of sixteen young performers and musicians (John and Jackson) on show at Union Theatre’s jam-packed stage.
Twang!! is about the heroic outlaw, Robin Hood, who loses his ability to aim and shoot silver arrows on the bullseye, but, twang or no twang, Robin needs to save Nottingham from the merciless, money-grabbing and power-hungry claws of the Sheriff of Nottingham and the usurper Prince John. It is to his optimistic, all-singing and all-dancing Merry Men to help Robin stop the evil Prince John and save his lovely Maid Marian. They also need to assist him in finding his mojo… I mean twang!
Musical shenanigans are brought up a notch when Robin and his Merry Men come across mild-mannered wanderer Much, yet there’s a catch – he doesn’t like musicals. Oh no! It’s a travesty, but the seven Merry Men in green tights know what to do. They make use of their high-reaching notes, flamboyant kicks, and thrusts, in the airs and dazzle their jazz hands which turn Much’s frown upside down. They sing and dance to songs, including ‘Welcome to Sherwood Forest’ and ‘What makes a star’.
There is no question that Twang!! is great for anyone looking for an entertaining, lighthearted and playful night out, particularly for musical lovers, but there are some things pulling it back from being a better musical show. This is no reflection on the performers though.
Robin is nobly and confidently played by Peter Noden. Kweeva Garvey’s Marian is well-suited as Robin’s sweetheart and pretty damsel in distress. Joe Rose and Jessica Brady as Much and Delphina bring absurdity and slapstick to the fore as lovers pulled apart by Much’s disinterest in musicals and Delphina’s tendency towards too-much-temptation. Christopher Hewitt’s Sheriff of Nottingham, Ed Court’s Sir Guy and Lewis McBean’s Prince John are great at hitting those showstopping cues with their skill for depicting convincing, boo-worthy villains. James Hudson, Kane Verrall, Louie Westwood and the rest of the ensemble are boisterous; their cheerful enthusiasm for singing and dancing is infectious, and there are many enjoyable numbers, dance choreographies by Mitchell Harper and catchy lyrics they perform with amusement. ‘Whose little girl are you?’ is my favourite!
Nonetheless, there are huge ensemble numbers and larger-than-life choreographies which don’t translate well on a small stage. Unfortunately, I felt the Union Theatre cannot accommodate all of these theatrical elements effectively. Often it seemed like a performer was an inch away from hurting themselves by a prop close to their head or potentially another prop set on the ground. None of this happened on the night I attended, of course, but it did make me wonder. Also, the small stage, designed by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust, and the sizzling musical energy flowing through the room meant the rise in temperature makes it, a tad, harder to breathe – how did the performers cope? Additionally, I pitied some of the singers as I couldn’t hear their voices properly during some points in the show.
Compared to the first act, the second act felt overwhelming given the amount of ensemble numbers and send off dances which veered onto the ridiculous and over-the-top territories. The innuendos and cheesy lines kept layering up, one by one, and it soon began to jar. If the second act had rein back with a ballad or two instead, to add some calm to the storm so to speak, this might have helped, yet by the end of the show I was ready for my bed. It needs bags of finesse and tightening up before more people can love it. Sadly, it doesn’t hit all of the marks and (hate to use the pun, but it) is still missing its twang.
Twang!! is is showing at the Union Theatre (London) until May 5, 2018. For more information on the show and to book tickets, please click here.
(I was provided a complimentary ticket to a special bloggers event through the PR company.)
(Header image: Francesca Pim, Kweeva Garvey, Ed Court and Christopher Hewitt. Photos: Anton Belmonte.)