I had suggested Big Mo, a friend, for the Reggie Kray role. He also got the boot a week in. Having seen the show take shape, we had a night out on Friday to see how the production had faired after our departure. To my surprise, the Director Matthew Lloyd-Davies had taken the role of Reggie Kray. Wheras big Mo is 6'1, Matthew is significantly shorter, so I was wondering how he'd get on as one of Great Britains most notorious gangsters. As the first number opened up, "You've never had it so good" it was clear that as director he'd changed the role and direction of the Krays. The direction we'd received was to stand together as the Krays and look mean. We'd worked hard on the chemistry and the interaction. We'd also gone for as dark and threatening portrayal as we could. The new boys in town had clearly gone in a rather different direction.
One of the appeals for me of the play was the strong music. The first number was an ensemble. It is a good number that sets the scene of the early 1960's. It opens with young black actors Paul Stephenson and Johnny Edgecombe parodying the BBC of the day. This was an inspired piece of direction by Matthew Lloyd Davies. The play starts with Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies running away from home and meeting up with Stephen Ward. Rachal Olivant and Charlie Olivia make a convincing Keeler and Rice Davies. Michael Howe gets the Stephen Ward character just about right, combining the upper class society medical professional, with the seedy underbelly on early 1960's London. David Pendlebury makes a great Profumo and a rather good, seedy slum Landlord Peter Rachman. Songs such as Movie Queen and Bloodsicker Baby capture the aspirations of the girls and the way their dreams are exploited by the men who see them as chattels.
Then we had the grand entrance of the Krays. My gut feeling was that Lloyd-Davies original direction for myself and Mo for the Krays was sound. I was worried that the "lightening" of the role would not work. After all the Krays were not noted for their song and dance routine. The big number for them was "We'll do You" which we delivered with an air of intimidation and menace. The new team went for comedy slapstick. Of course I am a bit biased but I thought it was a wrong turn. Sadly this was also picked up by the reviewer from the Independent.
"Contrast this with the mirth-free presentation of Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle as a pair of northern music-hall clowns (“So put the kettle on and we'll have a cup of tea/Soon the working classes will be free”) who here gingerly recruit a jokey, sanitised version of the Kray twins to help them flush out the scandal. "Sadly I felt this detracted from the whole show, as it lost much of the light and dark we'd seen in the early walk through. I don't think anyone who actually saw myself and Mo as the Krays would describe us as jokey or sanitised. I was reminded of a Boyzone cover of Fairytale of New York by the presentation. Having said that, Matthew and James McGregor did have better dance moves than myself or Mo, if that was what the Director was looking for.
Darrie Gardner gave a good account of herself in the role of Valerie Profumo, delivering the ballad "Don't tell me me" with panache. The final scene of the first act was, for me, the highlight of the show. This was the fight scene between gangsters Lucky Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe. Paul Stephenson particularly gave an awesome performance. I was disappointed that the other reviews have not highlighted this.
The second half of the show begins with Order in the House. This is the scene where Profumo tells a porkie to get himself off the hook. The plot progresses and another highlight was "Put the kettle on" where Harold Wilson (Michael Howe) and Barbara Castle (Darrie Gardner) discuss the collapse of the old Tory order.
The show finale sends us all home having a good night out. After the final curtian, myself and Mo went for a beer with some of the cast and crew. The show had a very compressed production cycle and the some of the cast felt that this didn't give them the chance to do Gordon Kenney's words and music justice. In places the pace was uneven and this was not helped by the fact that the stage, which was integral to the action had to be abandoned due to technical problems.
I thought overall the show was a good watch and a decent night out. It would benefit hugely from a full West End production, where justice could be done for the songs. I also feel that a little work at the end, tying up the loose ends would have not gone amiss. The reviews have been mixed, the Independent was extremely harsh (no undue influence from Mr Lloyd-Webber one assumes).
I will break the habit of a lifetime and go and see the Andrew Lloyd-Webber production "Stephen Ward" which is coming out later in the year out of curiosity. If he's looking for a couple of Kray brothers, he has the number !