There was much critical “compare and contrasting” going on last week between David Essex’s musical All The Fun of the Fair, which opened at the Garrick Theatre, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Coney Island-set Love Never Dies over at the Adelphi. All The Fun came off better, perhaps as just another opportunity for the critics to put the boot into ALW, but also as a pleasurable way to hear some good old pop tunes from Essex’s back catalogue, woven into a not-overly-bad plot.
The Times [rating:3]
Daily Express [rating:4]
The Independent [rating:3]
The Telegraph [rating:3]
Critic: Paul Callan
ON DAVID ESSEX: “Not quite the rocking luminary of the Seventies we remember but he still has that roguish appeal and can belt out such memorable numbers as Hold Me Close and my old favourite Silver Dream Machine… Essex still has that great, gravelly voice and plays the old-time boss with smooth style.”
IN A NUTSHELL: “A slender framework for 23 of Essex’s best songs but, as jukebox musicals go, it has some dramatic and edgy moments”.
KEY PERFORMANCES: “Michael Pickering is a powerfully voiced Jack, particularly in his solo Lamplight, and Tim Newman as Slow Jonny was highly comical, apart from his “Ooooh Betty” Michael Crawford voice”.
CREATIVE TEAM: “Director David Gilmore keeps the energy moving along and Ian Westbrook’s set catches perfectly the faded charm of old fairgrounds”.
FINAL THOUGHTS: “And I wasn’t the only critic who wanted to jump on the stage and drive a Dodgem…”
Critic: Benedict Nightingale
IN A NUTSHELL: “This is still basically a sentimental, soft-centred show, one in which even Christopher Timothy’s Harvey, Alice’s possessive and supposedly dangerous father, seems happiest when he’s chatting about the good old days with laid-back Levi. But it’s hard to resist the result. If Essex’s book creaks his songs, many or most of them from his backlist, do come across tunefully enough.”
Critic: Michael Coveney
IN A NUTSHELL: ““David Gilmore’s production may not have the sinister fairground glamour and technical pizzazz of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Coney Island melodrama across town, Love Never Dies but it does have its own quality of London pride, Essex (as in the place, and the star) nostalgia and delight in making pop music.”
ON DAVID ESSEX: “Essex himself is so laid back as to be virtually horizontal, but he always had something of the Gypsy about him, and the singing voice, though fading, retains enough of its distinctive cracked parchment properties. With librettist Jon Conway, he’s cleverly devised another way of touring his concert show without having to sing everything himself.”
Critic: Charles Spencer
ON THE BOOK: “The inspiration for the plot, a book by Jon Conway in which vicious heavies threaten the funfair’s future and true love refuses to run smoothly, is workmanlike rather than inspired”.
ON THE SONGS: “I was amazed at just how many of Essex’s catchy songs —Gonna Make You a Star, Hold Me Close, A Winter’s Tale and Lamplight —had wormed their way into my consciousness, and how good it was to hear them again.”
IN A NUTSHELL: “The show has that essential but often elusive quality for any musical — heart… The plot line may be predictable, the jokes not quite as funny as one would wish, but there are moments when it becomes genuinely touching, and it is a pleasure to watch a West End production that puts its faith in its performers rather than hi-tech special effects”.
ON DAVID ESSEX: “His voice now has a touchingly vulnerable crack in it, lending an unexpected depth of feeling to even trite lyrics, and he moves with elegant, if now rather languid, aplomb during Rock On.”