Theatre Review: Gay's the Word - Jermyn Street Theatre, London ✭✭✭✭

Ivor Novello’s 
Gay’s The Word
Jermyn Street Theatre

Review by Claire Spence

Friday 8th February: What a wonderful show! Ivor Noevello’s 50’s classic Gay’s The Word certainly lived up to its name! Gay meaning cheerful and jolly, and this production was certainly that.

The show opens at Manchester Opera House with the finale of the musical, Ruritania, which its lead, fading stage star Gay Daventry, played with gusto by the wonderful Sophie-Louise Dann (Lend me a Tenor), hopes to take to London. Unfortunately, it’s a flop. Giving a lifeline by Linda Severn, played by angel-voiced Helena Blackman (How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria), Gay opens a stage school and discovers what is needed to get her back on top is, in the title of the show’s hit song, Vitality!

Richard Stitling’s adaptation is the first professional production of Gay’s The Word in London since 1951 and opens the newly refurbished Jermyn Street Theatre. You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking an agreement with the ‘Doctor’ was made as the backstage area appeared to be a tardis! For the curtain call, lines and lines of performers streamed out of the wings, 20 in total, including James Church, the pianist. However, this has a claustrophobic effect onstage.

Despite this, director and choreographer, Stewart Nicholls, effectively manoeuvres his cast within the space with only one incident of a collision during the whole show. I hope this production is transferred to a larger venue so the actors can really stretch their legs and Nicholls is able to be less constrained with his choreography. Notwithstanding, the venue is an important one for its mission to revive forgotten classics and present new writing.

The cast are terrific, most reprising their roles from a sold out semi-stage production at the Finborough Theatre and I would name all personally if I could. Sophie-Louise Dann sings magnificently and moves and looks stunning and I’m glad I was able to catch her performance before she heads over to Paris to star in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. James Bentham in Ensemble stands out as a performer who is every present with attention to detail and I deduce would receive full marks from Strictly’s Craig Revel Horwood for his clean lines and precise movements.

Gay’s The Word lists many hilarious songs including Sweet Thames and the faultless Act Two opener Teaching, sang by former stage stars and spinsters turned teachers, Monica (Gaye Brown), Margaret (Myra Sands), Birdie (Eileen Page) and Madame Nicolini (Elizabeth Seal - whose career began in the original production of Gay’s The Word); it tells of their delight of hearing about the misfortunes of former challenging pupils. The beauty of Novello’s production is its diverse cast, in terms of age not culture, from the eager fresh blood at the beginning of their careers to the cynical twilight generation who in a ‘normal’ job would have reached retirement. This show encompasses marvellous characters and it is great to see acting greats onstage playing them.

The Stage and Costume design, by Gregor Donnelly, is delicious, truly encompassing the bygone era of the 50’s and, as a seamstress, I found myself making mental notes of the dresses. Rob Mills lighting is effective in enhancing the production and does not distract from the action onstage.

If you want an evening of pure gay entertainment this is definitely one to watch.

Running at 2hrs 15minutes including interval, Gay's the Word runs until 2nd March.

4 Stars ✭✭✭✭