I can never resist scribbling down rhymes in new musicals, whether in a spirit appalled or admiring. Take a bow Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary – writers of this extreme carbohydrate tribute to Bake Off’s eleven years on two networks, for my biro sped across the page in the darkness. I seem to have scrawled the words “Dont be so despondent, put more water in your fondant’ and I think it was admiration that time.
It certainly was in the signature number from Grace Mouat’s Izzy, the posh-mean-girl character who is only doing it to get on telly – “I’ll get on Loose Women, and design my own linen, and Beyoncé will be my best friend”, a superb summing-up of Generation Z dim-bition. I also seem to have scrawled “dip your little finger in my raclette”, which falls to Haydn Gwynne as the masterful she-judge.
The idea, a nice one, is to consider the musical as a season that was never broadcast. There’s a cookie-cutter predictable cast of characters who we are under orders to consider lovable. The presenters (Zoe Birkett and Scott Paige) do a good job of being every bit as naff with their annoying questions as the real ones, while the lofty judges (who are NOT called Pru Leith and Paul Hollywood, though what with the motorbike, her hairdo and the I’m-a-top-businesswoman number snarl you might suspect it.
Among the contenders there’s posh bad Izzy (don’t worry, she recants, after doing a terrible thing with a creme-brulée gun to the humble heroine Gemma, a carer from Blackpool who needs to find confidence) . There’s an aircraft engineer with a taste for precision, a widowed Dad with a lovable kid, and Hassan the Syrian refugee, who discusses how British they both are with Francesca the Italian immigrant. There’s earthy Babs – very important, Claire Moore turning the heat up to the edge of intolerable – and hippie vegan Dezza, who gets thrown out and in one of the few crisper edges of the plot keeps crashing back in. All the contestants have a brief back-story – neatly handled – and it is no spoiler to reveal that the conclusion to everything is that it’s not really a competition (or a TV moneyspinner). It’s a JOURNEY, and it’s all about being people together, er in a space, like a theatre.
So that’s got the soggy bottom of it over with, and nobody is going to turn up thinking it’s going to be Joe Gorton, after all. There’s a lot of good to balance it out: some of the songs, notably “I’ll never be me without you” , will become the sort of standards which in future decades Elaine Paige will play on Sunday afternoon R2, and I mean that as praise. “Babs’ Lament” over the toothsome but unattainable he-judge may also survive, and Haydn Gwynne as judge Pam actually does a full cartwheel at one point, one of those breathtaking proofs that actors are not like the rest of us in our mid-sixties.
But it’s the big showstopper in the first half which is almost worth the ticket price alone: “Slap it like that” led by John Owen-Jones in the Paul-Hollywood role involves mass percussive strudel-dough choreography. Georgina Lamb – who keeps this big cast moving fast and neatly all the time – has had to liaise with Alice Power the “Set, Costume and Cake designer” to create a dough which could withstand the extreme slapping. I must honour them for that. Especially if they er – knead – to make a new lot twice on matinée days.
Yes, it was jolly. Charlotte Wakefield has a particularly beautiful voice, too, and if the storylines are beaten thinner than the airiest Filo pastry, who cares? I consulted theatrecat’s mice and the fourth one sidled in, burping, sugary frosting round its whiskers.
bakeoffthemusical.com to 13 May