Bugsy Malone review – a sassy, grab-you-by-the-tear-ducts production

Lyric Hammersmith, London
Sean Holmes’s ebullient production avoids the pitfalls of staging Alan Parker’s film, offering a punchy opening show at the beautifully redesigned Lyric

Thea Lamb in Bugsy Malone: ‘sang as if she had a Billie Holiday lifetime in her voice’.
Thea Lamb, 12, as Blousey Brown in Bugsy Malone: ‘sang as if she had a Billie Holiday lifetime in her voice’. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

The reopening of the Lyric Hammersmith has a particularly important dimension. This is a theatre wired into the borough around it, and working with young people. Those intentions are often parroted: in this case they are true. After a terrific redesign by Rick Mather Architects, the building is flooded with light. A new wing is taking flight, there is a neon design outside by David Batchelor, and inside “mischievous signals” in the form of signs from Richard Wentworth. The press night, steaming with energy, ran on youth fuel. Teens and pre-teens escorted audiences around the new rehearsal rooms and recording studio, where other teens and tots danced, sang, acted, played fiddles (“we are musical pirates”) and created popping, sizzling soundscapes with their lips and hands. And, of course, children were the stars of Sean Holmes’s ebullient, sassy, grab-you-by-the-tear-ducts production of Bugsy Malone.

Alan Parker says that he has “actively discouraged professional productions” of his 1976 film. Not surprisingly. The idea of making a musical about gangland Chicago during Prohibition and casting it with kids who destroy faces with cream buns rather than bullets was always audacious. A dimpled, kiss-curl rendering of these gangsterettes would be not only cutesey but creepy. The show, a punchy tribute and take-off of the Broadway musicals, deserves better. It has a tip-top score and incisive dialogue by Paul Williams. Holmes’s production does it proud.

Ensemble in Bugsy Malone.
Knock-out choreography courtesy of Drew McOnie. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Three casts rotate. I saw Thea Lamb, 12, as Blousey Brown, the singer who wants to go to Hollywood. She came on dainty as a kitten and sang as if she had a Billie Holiday lifetime in her voice and heart. Max Gill was a nonchalant Fat Sam and Daniel Purves an on–the-button tiny Bugsy. Hard to believe that Samantha Allison, mellow-voiced in the part in which Jodie Foster slunk so memorably, was 13; she might have been 30.

Success is not a matter of knock-out individuals. It comes from the big sweep of Drew McOnie’s choreography, featuring an especially smashing boxing sequence. And from continual smart touches. The gleaming, foot-pedalled car; the oversized evening gloves on skinny arms. And the face of a pocket-sized, swanking star, more full of makeup than features.

• At the Lyric Hammersmith, London until 1 August


Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

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 review – splurge-gun turf wars and cutesy molls
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

Michael Billington

28, Apr, 2015 @9:30 PM

Article image
The week in theatre: One Woman Show; Hakawatis; Bugsy Malone
Liz Kingsman’s zinging take on Fleabag goes beyond parody. Elsewhere, a gutsy, all-female Arabian Nights, and splurge guns at dawn

Susannah Clapp

01, Jan, 2023 @10:30 AM

Article image
Herons review – a feral smash and grab
Young Max Gill is terrific in Simon Stephens’s meditation on bullying

Susannah Clapp

31, Jan, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Three Kingdoms – review
A European co-produced detective story throws up more questions than answers, says Tom Lamont

Tom Lamont

12, May, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Whistle Down the Wind review – outstanding production of the Lloyd Webber musical
Tom Jackson Greaves thrillingly fuses movement with music in his revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Louisiana-set take on the classic 60s film

Clare Brennan

31, Jul, 2022 @10:30 AM

Article image
Terror review – intriguing but laboured
Ferdinand von Schirach’s morally perplexing legal drama puts the fate of a German fighter pilot at the audience’s mercy

Kate Kellaway

25, Jun, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Cinderella review – saucy and sweet
A tight script, beguiling design and Converse trainers instead of glass slippers make this Cinders a winner

Susannah Clapp

27, Dec, 2015 @8:00 AM

Article image
The Seagull review – Chekhov gets new wings
Lyric Hammersmith, London
Lesley Sharp’s Irina moves from delight to despair in Simon Stephens’s incisive 21st-century version

Susannah Clapp

15, Oct, 2017 @6:50 AM

Article image
Lovesong; The Table; A Christmas Carol – review
Abi Morgan returns to the stage with a touching love story, and Simon Callow and Dickens are as one, writes Susannah Clapp

Susannah Clapp

15, Jan, 2012 @12:06 AM