Review: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Union Theatre

“Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,

I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer”
I’m not the kind of gentleman who normally ends an evening with a lady in his lap but that was what (nearly) happened last night at the Union Theatre’s revival of US musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Inspired by a true story of a similarly-titled brothel , the Chicken Ranch is a well-established institution that has been passed down to Miss Mona from the original owner, who runs it with a veneer of classy respectability wherein she looks after her girls well and gets on with the local law enforcement to keep things running smoothly. But the decision of crusading news reporter Melvin P Thorpe to try and get the establishment closed down threatens everything.

Sarah Lark plays Miss Mona, the role made famous by Dolly Parton in the movie of the same name, all big brassy blonde hair piled up on her head and possessed of a wardrobe stuffed with fringes and sequins and quietly understated as a warmly maternal figure. Her singing voice is lovely though lacked a little volume in places and there was a little gravitas missing from her portrayal, though that could square with her being pushed into the position of Madam through unexpectedly inheriting the place. And around her are her scantily-dressed girls who service the townsmen’s needs – mainly portrayed here through shadow-play – and most of whom are running away from something, assumedly also using the somersaulting skills that got one lady closer to me than I was expecting! Together they make a strong group – the harmonies of ‘Girl You’re A Woman’ most lovely, the mix of personalities entertaining and as a starting point for a show, it feels like a fascinating premise. Continue reading “Review: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Union Theatre”

Review: The Hired Man, Landor

“No greater pleasure than work done well”

The Hired Man was Howard Goodall’s first musical, setting Melvyn Bragg’s story of turn-of-the-century everyday rural Cumbrian life to a score inspired by Kurt Weill but primarily influenced by English choral and folk music. Based on events that happened to Bragg’s grandfather, the plot revolves around farmhand John Tallentine, his wife Emily and their family during a period of considerable social and economic upheaval as agriculture declines, pit mining advances and the shadow of the First World War threatens everything and everyone.

Though the scope of the story is huge, taking in a significant chunk of British social history, it is actually intimately told by focusing in on this single family and how the larger events impact their daily lives. In this respect, Andrew Keates’ production at the Landor is a great match of venue and material as we are taken right into the heart of this story and the struggles of its tightly-knit society to find just a little daily happiness as they work the land whether through a pie and a pint in the local or breaking marriage vows. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Landor”