Review: The Boy Friend, Menier Chocolate Factory

As light as a madeleine and as frivolous as a macaron, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend proves a festive treat at the Menier Chocolate Factory

“Clap-a your hands and slap on your thighs
Grin like a goon and roll up your eyes”

As light as a madeleine and as frivolous as a macaron, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend belongs in the same delightfully daft bracket of musical theatre as the likes of Salad Days and as such, is the perfect kind of frothy fun that offers a little respite from the darkness of winter nights and politicians’ empty promises. Written in the 1950s as an homage to the 1920s and with a plot that can be summed up in one character’s aside “poor little rich girl”, Matthew White’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory sees him renew a richly fruitful relationship which has included such successes as She Loves Me and Sweet Charity.

Keeping the original three act structure, complete with two intervals, pushes the evening a little towards the episodic, but any sense of slightness is banished by the thrilling choreographic content from Bill Deamer (also associate director). From the gobsmacking elasticity and unflagging energy of Jack Butterworth and Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson’s first act charleston, to the explosive passion of Bethany Huckle and Matthew Ives’ fiery carnival tango, the quality of the dancing really is second to none. And as the full company join in time and again, it’s hard not to be swept up in the joyous atmosphere and just join in with their beaming grins.

Paul Farnworth’s design work is equally a delight with its swirls of wrought iron framing the set and swooshes of fabric in wide trouser legs and dropped waistlines, just begging to be whirled around in that dynamic choreography. Pleasing too is Richard Mawbey’s hair and wig design, standing up to the close scrutiny of the intimate Menier with its Brylcreemed slicks and finger waves. With all of this creative splendour at hand, there’s no reason at all not to be fully invested in the amour fou that sweeps everyone here on the French Riviera, from Amara Okereke and Dylan Mason’s sweet young’uns to Janie Dee and Robert Portal’s no less endearing, if more mature flirtations.

For what its worth, the plot follows the travails of the young women of Mme Dubonnet’s finishing school, a world where cut-glass English accents sit next to exaggerated Gallic drawls, where rich people pretend to be working class for larks, and where one is only ever two ticks from a proposal from a perfectly smashing chap. It’s nonsense of course, but highly amiable with it. The only slightest of down notes comes with the fleeting use of the British-person-(or Joey from Friends)-trying-to-speak-French gag (or more accurately, the audience’s reaction to it,  a strange pride in not being able to speak the language of the country you’re in…).

As clichéd as it may sound, there isn’t a weak link in the company. Janie Dee is huge fun as the effusive Dubonnet, Okereke and Mason play their ingenues with a pleasingly straight back, supported brilliantly by the aforementioned Butterworth and Lewis-Dodson are both excellent as the undercard couple, and Tiffany Graves makes a superb return to the stage as the warmly inviting Hortense. Simon Beck’s band are clearly having a whale of a time too, relishing the easy swing and sway of Wilson’s score. A surefire hit if ever there was one.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with 2 intervals)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
The Boy Friend is booking at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 7th March

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