Review: Frank’s Closet, Hoxton Hall

I’m not always the biggest fan of fringe theatre: often I find it overpriced and undercooked in terms of quality, but I do try to give some things a chance, as I did with Frank’s Closet, at the instigation of a dear friend last Thursday. Unfortunately the show has now closed and does not currently have future plans, but I loved it so much, I still had to write about it on here.

A new musical written by Stuart Wood, it features Frank, who on the eve of his wedding, has been set the challenge of clearing out his closet which is full of rare dresses which belonged to some of the greatest divas of our time. Each dress has a story (or song) to tell and Frank is helped to revisit elements of his past by a procession of divas who help him to fully understand the gravity of the commitment he is about to undertake, and whether indeed this is the right commitment for him to take.

The music goes from witty pastiches of Marie Lloyd, Ethel Merman, Julie Andrews, Karen Carpenter, Judy Garland to Agnetha Fältskog, but the quality does not drop for a moment despite this range. Carl Mullaney is jaw-droppingly good as the multi-faceted Diva, with some what must be lightning quick costume changes, and fully inhabits each of the characters to the extent that one sometimes wondered whether it really was the same guy on stage. His vocal delivery was impeccable and he also showed some excellent movement for each of the divas. The songs are tuneful (a quality sometimes misjudged in new musicals, cf: Too Close To The Sun), but importantly have very funny lyrics as well, so the humour is not just from looking at a man in a range of dresses!

Donna King as the titular Frank is also good. I must admit it took me a little while to get used to the fact that she was playing a gay man, but once the whole music hall vibe of the piece kicked in, it made perfect sense. Portia Emare, David Furnell and the lovely Debbie McGee provided sterling support as the Fabulous Gaiety Girls and there was even some eye candy in the form of Cleo Souza Oliveira and Bruno Serravalle who did a lot of looking pretty in their pants. The ensemble looked very comfortable together and really seemed to be having fun and it made it even more of a pleasure to watch.

The setting of Hoxton Hall is spot on for this show. It is beautiful, and looks just the part all dressed up with a set that looks like an old-fashioned, almost toy-like theatre, perfectly evocative of old-time music hall adventures. The costumes were suitably witty, with Ethel Merman’s swan-bedecked outfit a standout. In fact, the only weakness in the whole piece for me was the somewhat unexplained image of the two boys sleeping which both opened and closed the show, I never really understood who they were meant to be and how they related to Frank, but this was a minor quibble.

I also have to mention that after the show, in the nice pub opposite, we chatted to several of the cast and they were all lovely people, happy to share their experiences (and in the case of The Lovely Debbie McGee a chip!), and it put the cherry on the top of what was a delightful evening. I truly hope that the producers are able to find another home for this play as it really does deserve it.

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