Bugsy Malone review – splurge-gun turf wars and cutesy molls

Lyric Hammersmith, London
The young cast strut, smoulder and hoof their hearts out, but this adaptation of Alan Parker’s 1975 film has nothing new to say about the gangster-movie tradition

This radically redeveloped theatre positively brims with youthful energy. Before the show, spectators get to tour the new, two-storey Reuben Foundation Wing where budding actors, dancers, musicians and film-makers ply their craft in ideal spaces. And the main stage is occupied by a re-creation of the celebrated 1975 Alan Parker film in which kids perform a musical spoof of the gangster movies of Hollywood in its heyday.

It is all staged by Sean Holmes with great elan, the cast is highly talented, and the audience went wild with delight. The Lyric clearly has a hit on its hands. If my own rapture was distinctly measured, it was for several reasons. One is that Parker’s concept doesn’t have anything new to say about the gangster tradition, but, as the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael pointed out, simply reactivates its cliches by unusual casting. The other problem is that there is an unavoidable cutesiness about the sight of kids apeing adult mannerisms: boys strut around with coats draped lightly over their shoulders, and one of the girls is obliged to adopt the slinky postures of a Hollywood vamp.

But, even if I’d rather see young people doing a show that related to their own experience rather than to adult, movie-based nostalgia, this one has its pleasures. It’s a nice idea to portray the speakeasy owner Fat Sam, engaged in a turf war with the slick Dandy Dan, as a stumblebum who can’t see a bucket without inadvertently putting his foot in it. The slapstick, with custard pies vainly countering goo-shooting splurge guns, is fun. And Paul Williams’s numbers yield, in Drew McOnie’s choreography, some well-executed dance routines. Much the best is So You Wanna Be a Boxer in which a reluctant pugilist (the towering Hammad Animashaun) finds himself drawn into a display of fleet-footed ringcraft.

Max Gill as Fat Sam.
Max Gill as Fat Sam. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

The principal roles are rotated among three different sets of performers, and the cast I saw was very good. Max Gill as Fat Sam, with plastered-down hair and two-tone shoes, showed a natural ebullience and ease on stage. Ashton Henry-Reid, as a janitor with showbiz leanings, did the old dancing-with-a-mop routine with a laid-back insouciance. And Thea Lamb as Blousey Brown, the love interest to Daniel Purves’s spry Bugsy, proved she could deliver a soul number with heartfelt yearning.

The good thing about the show is that, aided by Jon Bausor’s design, it has a vaudevillian bounce denied to Parker’s movie. But, while I may well be in a minority of one, I found something resistible about its desperate desire to be loved.

• At Lyric Hammersmith, London, until 1 August. Box office: 020-8741 6850.


Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Bugsy Malone review – a sassy, grab-you-by-the-tear-ducts production
Sean Holmes’s ebullient production avoids the pitfalls of staging Alan Parker’s musical

Susannah Clapp

03, May, 2015 @6:30 AM

Article image
Bringing back Bugsy Malone: ‘we’ll smell of Angel Delight for months’
The Lyric Hammersmith has reopened to the sound of singing and splurge guns. But this streetwise revival of Bugsy Malone is more than a nostalgia trip

Matt Trueman

24, Apr, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Bugsy Malone screening lets families splurge

Children, and parents, revel in Future Cinema's interactive and immersive showing of classic film

Alexandra Topping

06, Apr, 2012 @7:01 PM

Article image
Bugsy Malone

Peter Bradshaw: Boisterous and good-natured

Peter Bradshaw

08, Dec, 2006 @11:57 PM

Article image
Bugsy Malone review – splurge guns at the ready for a twinkling revival
With charismatic performances and playful effects, Sean Holmes’ slick touring production is escapist fun

Miriam Gillinson

13, Jul, 2022 @10:23 AM

Article image
Chair – review
Edward Bond's dystopian satire is unlike anything else on the London stage, with a refreshing clarity and a hypnotic pull, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

15, May, 2012 @12:45 PM

Article image
Cinderella – review

Silly and witty in equal measure with some impressive visual flourishes, this is an evening that sparkles, writes Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner

10, Dec, 2012 @12:51 PM

Article image
Aladdin – review
Shaun Prendergast's top-notch Widow Twanky lifts a show in danger of over-familiarity, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

04, Dec, 2011 @6:00 PM

Article image
Metamorphosis – review

A striking adaptation of Kafka made yet more poignant by the passage of time, writes Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner

23, Jan, 2013 @3:01 PM

Three Kingdoms – review

You can't question the commitment of his actors, but Simon Stephens's labyrinthine plot is hard to follow, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

09, May, 2012 @6:10 PM