Whilst Harvey Fierstein’s Newsies and Kinky Boots are enjoying big successes in New York, London lacks a touch of the writer’s flair. With this in mind, London Theatre Workshop have promised to bring “a slice of Broadway to Fulham Broadway” and are the producers of the UK professional première of Fierstein’s lesser known A Catered Affair.
Based on the 1950s film of the same name starring Bette Davis and Debbie Reynolds, Fierstein’s book has been added to with John Buccino’s music and lyrics. The story follows a young couple – Janey Hurley and Ralph Halloran – who decide to get married. Whilst they only want a small, intimate wedding, Ralph’s wealthier parents insist on a more lavish affair, forcing Janey’s mum Aggie to also match their donations to the couple. Whilst Janey’s dad is saving to buy his share of a taxi, and the local women are chattering about the shotgun style of the wedding, the Hurley family life unravels quickly.
The story is fairly extraordinary: a mother trapped by her domestic lifestyle wants better for her child, whilst her child feels suffocated by her over-bearing mother trying too hard. Still, London Theatre Workshop have done their best with the slightly weightless material. As a new company – formed in March this year– there are still a few teething issues to fix. The slightly heavy-handed lighting literally places most of the audience in the cast’s shadow, and makes it a little uncomfortable for the viewers. The costume and set design is encouraging though, with designers Edward Iliffe and Jonti Angel making the most of a promising space above the Eel Brook Pub.
However, there are a mixture of performances to match the mixture of creative efforts. Whilst the entire company are quite obviously beautiful singers, the most tender moments – usually led by Maggie Robson and Howard Samuels – feel a bit overplayed. Young ingénue Janey, played by Aimee Gray, never gets to show off her full potential, whilst David Anthony exudes flair as Uncle Winston, whose character provides the show’s much-needed comic relief and Fierstein’s trademark camp charisma. Whilst the ensemble are able to form some gorgeous harmonies altogether, Ray Rackham’s direction of the cast could do with a little more attention to detail.
The exquisite band in a corner of the stage play the beautiful medleys throughout the evening, and though the show lacks memorable tunes, the musical direction cannot be faulted.
As a young, fresh theatre company, London Theatre Workshop has a great future ahead of it. However, having put on four shows in the last three months, their calendar has been a little ambitious and it reflects in the work. If the company were to take their time a little more, I believe their productions could be more refined; and and subsequently, turn the above-a-pub venue into a great fringe theatre.
A Catered Affair is playing at The London Theatre Workshop until 20 June. For more information and tickets see the London Theatre Workshop website.