Bugsy Malone review – splurge guns at the ready for a twinkling revival

Theatre Royal Bath
With charismatic performances and playful effects, Sean Holmes’ slick touring production is escapist fun

Here is a chance to press pause on the difficult business of being an adult. Led by a talented cast of nine-to-15-year-olds, director Sean Holmes’ Bugsy Malone is pure theatrical escapism. It’s based on Alan Parker’s hit film, which sees two warring gangs of mini-mobsters fight to the death with splurge guns and custard pies in prohibition-era New York. This revival doesn’t quite have the wild energy of Holmes’ dazzling 2015 production but it still twinkles with a keen sense of fun and unbridled affection for showbiz.

Nestled behind New York’s gloomy black fire escapes, Fat Sam’s speakeasy is a riot of colour. The drinks bar glows like a rainbow and the sequined dancers sparkle. Jon Bausor’s playful design ripples with easy wit and effortless dynamism. The props swoop down from above, giant dangling lighting strips make the big numbers brighter still and the elegant but oversized costumes, which threaten to engulf the younger cast, are practically characters in their own right.

Bugsy Malone.
Expressive choreography … Bugsy Malone. Photograph: Johan Persson

The show’s greatest strength – its young cast and a giddy feeling that things might fall apart at any moment – is also its weakness. This is a slick production with high production values (and a particularly snazzy car chase sequence) but the weaker scenes can tip over into school-nativity territory. Some of the performances feel laboured, there are frequent dips in energy and a lot of time is spent whirling around, delivering gags directly to the audience.

The very best numbers – Bad Guys and So You Wanna Be a Boxer? – are led by the older ensemble cast, who thrive under Drew McOnie’s expressive choreography. The young cast are at their best in their individual showstoppers, with the stage empty and the spotlight focused on a single performer. Aidan Oti does a beautiful job with composer Paul Williams’ most memorable number, Tomorrow, filling it with frailty and hope. Mia Lakha and Jasmine Sakyiama have impressive control over their voices, as Blousey and Tallulah respectively, and the charisma that Gabriel Payne exudes in the penultimate number, Down and Out, is verging on outrageous.

• At Theatre Royal Bath until 23 July then touring until 11 February.


Miriam Gillinson

The GuardianTramp

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