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'Betwixt! A Funny Musical'

A brand new production that teams up some top Broadway talent with...a former Blue Peter presenter.

Call me a cynic, but whenever I see a play with book, music, lyrics and direction by one man, I can already hear "This! Is! My! VISION!" being yelled around behind the curtains. Couple that with the subject - a writer with writer's block - and this instantly smacks of the tortured auteur trying to justify his 'creative journey' or Lottery Trust grant, one or the other.

Going further and subtitling your work as 'A Funny Musical' merely goads a reviewer on. "Well, we'll see about *that!*" I huffed, sharpening my pencil, my wit and my cocktail in the bar beforehand as I perused the programme, mostly to glance over the Spotlight photos for who I'd happily pass the time of day (and in one case, night) with.

And it'd be far too easy to believe that if the budget for this new musical was any more than whatever change was found in the bottom of Ellen Greene's clutchbag (and remember the dollar still isn't great against the pound) so instead there's a slowly revealed sense of glorious frugality in having one person behind it all. I'll say this now: the plot flails around in all directions, taking a whirlwind tour of anything the creative force behind it thought would be enjoyable to do (the tap dancing was just about apologised for with a wink and a "Where else are you going to see tap dancing in the theatre this side of a 42nd Street revival?"). It has been tempered by some exquisite direction and comic timing, proving that what our writer/director/possibly-also-usherette may lack for plotting more than makes up for it in every other area.

Bringing this to light is the lead Benedict Salter, who is loveable with a brilliant physicality, and is propelled to even greater heights by his sidekick Steven Webb who possesses off-the-chart brilliance with everything he does here. Honestly, he's a comic star in the making and worth the price of admission alone. Add to that the very beautiful Ashleigh Gray who matches her counterparts for smart timing and you have a great core that seem like they're having a great time doing what they do - which is utterly infectious.

It is a pity that their brilliance isn't quite met by the 'names' in the cast, whose parts are split across three different characters, meaning that they have to handle what material they have with the broadest of strokes. Peter Duncan gives a sturdy effort, leading a great show-stopper called 'Fabulous Man' while backed by a very peppy and very talented ensemble.

However, you can't help wondering about the moment when Duncan walks off stage saying "I'm just not funny, am I?", whether that was written before or after they started rehearsing. And, hand on heart, I love Ellen Greene. I adored her as the fragile-voiced Audrey in 'Little Shop of Horrors. I loved her as one of the Darling Mermaid Darlings in 'Pushing Daisies'. But here, she's good, but not great. May the gay gods strike me down for saying it but really, don't see it for her, see it for the three true leads. But do marvel at how bendy she is.

Ultimately Betwixt! brings joy from the gleeful removal of the fourth wall, exposing everything including the limited set, ridiculous situations and sly involvement of the orchestra and audience in their bobbins plot about fairies and enchantresses that completely brings you on side. The sheer 'getting away with it' and Miranda Hart looks to audience left us all giggling like a housewife who'd accidentally backed onto the washer during the spin cycle. There's a twee 'put up or shut up' creative message that comes good in the final moments, but mostly its a revue show with a bit of French farce thrown in. The plot may be flimsy, the message completely hokey, but the lines are as sharp as an 80s manicure and most of the performances are comic gold. It may fall apart if you think about it too much but damn, it's a lot of fun. If you're looking for some fairytale story with some wit and charm, look no further; this show deserves to evict the similarly-themed Shrek from its much less magical Fairyland around the corner. Ditzy, uplifting fun.

4/5

Trafalgar Studios
14 Whitehall
Westminster
London
SW1A 2

For tickets click here.

Words: Lee Binding

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