A review of the sweetly enjoyable The Great British Bake Off – The Musical at the Everyman Theatre Cheltenham that avoids any mention of soggy bottoms
“Where would a gin be without its tonic
Why did the Krankies become iconic”
Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary have form with their commitment to theatre outside of London – their take on The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ premiered at Leicester’s Curve and for the world premiere of The Great British Bake Off – The Musical, they have turned to the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham where the show has a two week tryout. And for a TV show that is inherently gentle in its still-compelling charms, it feels like the ideal arena for the gingham altar, the enthusiastic warmth the encouragment it needs at this proving stage.
Brunger’s book wisely avoids the pitfall that many a reality TV show producer can’t resist in the manufacture of drama, by treating the show almost as a revue. Between the larger-than-life personae of two presenters and two judges, plus eight contestants for us to get to know and love, the mise en place is plenty enough. And so Cleary’s score gets to run the gamut of musical influences to allow each character their moment in the spotlight to hymn the glories of baking and the multitude of ways in which it has improved their lives.
A slow-fermenting, gently involving love story between two of the contestants is the main concession to narrative throughline, and is sold very sweetly by Damian Humbley and Charlotte Wakefield. But it doesn’t distract from the genial feeling that is cultivated by Rachel Kavanaugh’s production. Scott Paige and Jaye Jacobs are clearly having a riotous time as the presenters Jim and Kim and Rosemary Ashe and John Owen-Jones are the show’s magic ingredient as judges Pam and Phil, the nature of the show means they’re used sparingly but that only increases their impact as their vocal prowess and acting chops shine through in crackers like ‘I’d Never Be Me Without You’ and ‘Slap It Like That’.
Creatively it looks great too. Georgina Lamb’s choreography is visually striking and Alice Power’s design hits all the necessary reference points to make us feel at home. There is an undoubted sweetness and sentimentality about the whole affair which does keep it at a certain level, with the show’s structure baking it in further, so you do need to buy into it from the off as there’s not much dynamism. And whilst that might not be a problem for fans of the Bake Off, it is something the show will need to address if it is looking to appeal to a wider audience to draw in casual punters on Shaftesbury Avenue (that said, I don’t know if there are West End aspirations here).
Whatever shape the future plans take though, I will enjoy getting to see and hear this strudel-slapping show again, and to see how it develops. You hope too that it retains some if not all of the talent here. Claire Moore is showstoppingly good once she is finally deployed and Aharon Rayner and Catriana Sandison both offer powerful work in conveying the genuine power that the love of baking and the show itself can wield in expressing complex feelings about heritage and fertility.