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A CurtainUp London Review
Privates on Parade
Simon Russell Beale dominates with wonderful peroxide curls and satin corset in this part which allows any in the audience not immediately smitten by the camp captain, by the end of the play, to love the flamboyant leading star of the concert parties for his humanity and compassion. Every male name is converted by him to a female equivalent and, using this format, he originally blasphemes, “Jessica Christ” he says.
Much of what I said about the 2001 production holds ( review). The difference is that the Noël Coward is a larger theatre, with a traditional proscenium arch whereas at the Donmar the audience sit on three sides giving a more immersive experience.
This play harks back to the days of the British Empire, crumbling stone set and grimy windows, and forward to the glass towering skyscraper, business affluence in the Singapore of today as finally the Chinese silk suited servants become sharp suited businessmen. But there is also some implied comment on the sexuality tolerated abroad and in show business even in the 1940s, and the way the British allow for eccentricity, whether it’s the overt gays of the concert party or their nemesis, the eccentric evangelist Major Flack (an opinionated and occasionally overstated Angus Wright).
School leaver Private Steven Flowers (Joseph Timms), whom we saw in Linguaa Franca, a play set ten years after Privates on Parade, is the character based on the author. It is through his eyes that we see the other characters, John Marquez’s foul mouthed but affable Midlands Corporal Bonny, the corrupt ex-policeman, Sergeant Major Reg Drummond (Mark Lewis Jones) and the only woman in the troupe, Indo-Welsh Sylvia Morgan (Sophiya Haque) who is a victim of domestic violence.
This is Simon Russell Beale’s night and his impersonations of Marlene Dietrich, Vera Lynn, the gorgeously extravagant Carmen Miranda and Noël Coward have to be amateurish to be authentic. We really enjoyed it when, clad in blue frilly knickers, “Dietrich” is carried horizontally by the men. There are flashes of rather fine, spray tanned male derrières all round.
The Michael Grandage Company has a simple and accessible pricing policy for its 15 month reign in the West End; £57.50, £27.50 and £10 seats in the gallery and more at £10 available on the day from the Box Office.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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