“You gotta know what game to play and how to play it”
Faust via baseball, with songs – that’s Damn Yankees, the latest musical revival to hit Clapham North’s Landor Theatre, in a nutshell for you although the picture below gives a little more detail about the production… Hapless Joe Boyd blithely makes a deal with the devil to become Shoeless Joe Hardy who can save his beloved baseball team’s shockingly bad season even if it means leaving his wife behind. Sure enough though, as he helps the Washington Senators to victory after victory, suspicions about his sudden arrival are roused and it turns out he’s kinda missing his wife after all – can you go back on a deal with the devil?
It’s always a thrill to see choreography that tests the limits of this intimate space and Robbie O’Reilly’s work here is particularly striking in the group numbers – bringing to life the eternal conflict between obsessive sports fans and their spouses in the vibrant opening number ‘Six Months Out Of Every Year’, giving us the taut sensuality of a Latin dance club, or stripping the baseball team to their towels to show off their…ahem ‘Heart’. A show at the Landor also needs a director who understands the wide aspect of the stage and how to use it both efficiently and effectively.
Robert McWhir is of course that director (13 years and counting as AD) and there’s real skill in how he visualises scenes and stages them here – knowing exactly when to pull in focus or throw out wide (the staging of emotional trio ‘Near To You’ is particularly well done), how to move considerable groups of people around and still manage to get surprise reveals in there (keep your eye on the fireplace!) Aspiring directors could do a lot worse than come and get a masterclass in exploring and exploiting fringe stages here.
As in theatre as in life, the devil gets all the best lines (and songs) and whether in the Mephistophelean hands of Jonathan D Ellis’ Mr Applegate or the seductive allure of his able and willing assistant Lola as played by Poppy Tierney, it’s easy to see the appeal of some right good damnation. Tierney manages the not inconsiderable feat of bringing conviction to Lola’s journey through the show and Ellis is clearly at home as he chews the scenery up something rotten with devilish panache and a wicked sense of humour (as the gentleman who nipped to the loo midway through one of his songs soon found out).
Alex Lodge makes for a charming hero as the sweet-voiced younger Joe, a natural counterpart to Gary Bland’s older original, and Nova Skipp’s Meg – the ever-dutiful and way-too-understanding wife – has a beautifully straight-forward good-natured appeal and a lovely quality to her voice. Michael Webborn’s musical direction encourages this entirely straight bat from everyone which makes the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score really pop in a good old-fashioned way and unmiked as the singing is, it really does create a glorious sound. Something of a home run then for the Landor (see, I knew I could get a sporting pun in there!)