“Oh God I cannot stand this cow
But let’s act happy for now”
As with Forbidden Broadway, your enjoyment of Jest End relies heavily on a considerable familiarity with the theatrical landscape that it is poking fun at – the productions, the performers, the producers, the private in-jokes that make it tough to recommend for the uninitiated. Garry Lake’s musical revue premiered in 2007 and through a number of productions, updated each time, has adapted familiar showtunes and used them to parody the frolics and foibles of the West End and beyond.
So ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked becomes ‘Rely On Me The Lead’, Matilda’s ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ turns into ‘Jest End of Rebellion’, ‘Memphis Lives In Me’ from Memphis becomes ‘My Fans Believe In Me’ etc etc. And issues like celebrity casting, ticket prices and the business practices of certain West End (and off-West End) impresarios are raked over the coals, but always with a twinkle in the eye even in the satire’s sharpest barbs.
But even at under two hours, with an entirely unnecessary interval that is, Jest End does feel overstretched. Great satire is hard to do for any length of time and there is a definite sense of the hit and miss about the range of targets here and also the choice. Jabs at John Barrowman and Mary Poppins raise a chuckle but hardly have their finger on the pulse of what is current and so the energy of the show ends up dipping up and down quite considerably.
Fortunately a strong company make the journey an enjoyable one in the odd space that is the Waterloo East Theatre. Lizzy Connolly (so very good in the just-closed Xanadu), Scott Garnham (a stand-out in Grand Hotel), Jodie Jacobs and Simon Bailey all take their moments to shine. And Connolly and Garnham both feel like they are riding the well-deserved crest of a breakthrough wave, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either or both gaining major roles in 2016.