Review: Jackie the Musical, Churchill Bromley

“Jackie – a woman of a certain age”

I don’t remember reading my big sister’s copies of Jackie, nor could I say I’ve ever knowingly listened to a David Cassidy or a David Essex song. So I’m perhaps not directly in the target audience for Jackie the Musical, a 70s jukebox show that takes inspiration from the pages of that weekly magazine for teenage girls. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to be enjoyed by all but rather that this is a very particular kind of nostalgia. 

Janet Dibley’s Jackie is picking through the pieces of her life – in her 50s, about to be divorced, teenage dropout son – when she comes across a stash of paraphernalia from her girlhood in the attic. Old schoolbooks are soon discarded though when she finds some old copies of Jackie (the magazine) and as this is Jackie (the musical), a younger version of Jackie (the woman) manifests itself in her mind, to act as a kind of spirit guide through this time of emotional turbulence as she dips a toe into the world of online dating, aided by sparky best friend Jill, an excellent Lori Haley Fox. 

The show is at its strongest when referencing the altogether more innocent world of teenage magazines and the advice they gave – rub lemons on your elbows, find out a boy’s character from the shape of his nose, or his ear lobe, never use tongue in a kiss on the first date… It is best exemplified in a rare moment of Mike James’ book and the jukebox score working in perfect harmony when Daisy Steere’s young Jackie writes to agony aunts Cathy and Claire, Anna Linstrum’s direction turning it into a photostory complete with pop-up speech bubbles and as the issue is that her crush won’t get off the dancefloor, it segues perfectly into Tina Charles’ ’I Love to Love’. 

Elsewhere, the show pads out the rather flimsy plot with any number of 70s classics from the likes of T-Rex, The Osmonds, 10cc and the Davids, Cassidy and Essex, which are enthusiastically and eclectically choreographed by Arlene Phillips. Sometimes it is jaw-droppingly good – the full company number to ‘Tiger Feet’, led by Bob Harms’ Frankie, is just superb – sometimes it is bizarre as in the eye-poppingly literal efforts of ‘Crazy Horses’, and sometimes it has to be functional, a side-effect of Tim Shortall’s attractively bright but a little too fussy set design – Act 1 closer ‘Love is in the Air’ is marred by the amount of OCD plant pot moving.

Ultimately it’s the kind of show that doesn’t bear too much examination – Jackie’s son David (an appealing Michael Hamway) mocks others for liking Spandau Ballet and Andy Williams, yet he’s the one singing David Essex songs… Instead, its charms are uncomplicatedly straight-forward as Dibley’s initially fragile Jackie looks back in order to move forward, growing in strength through dalliances with married men, sticky toffee puddings and the realisation that – as one of the final speech bubbles proudly shows – ‘older women rock’. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 26th March, then touring to Bradford, Alhambra; Brighton, Theatre Royal; Edinburgh, King’s Theatre; Blackpool, Grand Theatre; Perth, Concert Hall; Wycombe, Swan; Manchester, Opera House; Birmingham, New Alexandra; Stoke, Regent; Wimbledon, New Theatre; Dartford, Orchard; Malvern, Festival Theatre; Liverpool, Empire; Sunderland, Empire; Inverness, Empire; Aberdeen, His Majesty’s; and Glasgow, King’s Theatre. 

Originally written for LondonTheatre1

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