FLOODS OF RELIEF
Ten years have passed since, in a Times Chief Theatre Critic hat, I last saw a former principal of the Royal Ballet leaping in puddles , singing his great heart out, and propelling skeins of water into the front rows with the debonair precision of a British Baryshnikov and the joyful grin of a teenager. Unforgettable. Everyone fell for Adam Cooper. I remember running into the director Jonathan Church in the interval, and pleadingly saying “O please tell me that he’s a good guy as well as..all that?” To which he replied “the nicest human being on the planet!”. Sometimes one needs to know such things to complete the joy. I can appreciate horrible human beings who are actually great actors, but it’s nice to know when they’re not.
That watery moment, has been something to dream about in this terrible long drought of live performance. And last night there was the complete miracle again: spray and song and laughter and pizazz, high-kicks in camisoles and a custard pie, spoofy jokes on the black and white film clips playing st 1920 absurdity, and Cooper using his dancer’s body not only to tap and twirl and soak the front rows but to recreate the absurdities of early cinema mime-show. It had come home to us, to a packed London house: a glory of nonsensical, nostalgia in which theatre pays homage to a movie about the days when the movies paid homage to vaudeville and to hoofing Broadway legend. A self-referential multilayered trifle to comfort us after the long fast.
Jonathan Church’s glorious revival, with Andrew Wright’s fabulously witty (and fabulously demanding) choreography, transferred from Chichester to the West End and toured; should have been touring internationally these last eighteen months, with varying casts but always that central marvel of Cooper, who it turned out is as much a likeable actor and pleasing singer as great dancer. Instead of that world tour, the principal has admitted that as theatre and its people were left to dwindle by a neglectful government, he tried for delivery driver jobs and universal credit.
So it’s fair to be emotional. We all were. Waves of applause met every big number even before the deluge. Nor was it only for the star: Charlotte Gooch as Kathy and Kevin Clifton are both Strictly veterans, and more than able to handle the character-comedy elements of the big numbers. The erotic-balletic displays in the second act are spectacular, but the ability the three principals have to seem to stumble and pratfall in the midst of a fast tap or vaudeville number is real class. As they tumble backwards together over a park bench you fear for their insurers and their skulls.
And, suddenly sober, fear for their show and their art and the huge daft beauty of their lately abused trade. Let them not be pinged off. Please.
box office sadlerswells.com to 5 sept
rating five music n dance mice