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Jun 11

A Damsel In Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre – review

Photo credit Johan Persson

Photo credit Johan Perssonzpfile000

A Damsel In Distress
Chichester Festival Theatre
Until 27 June
Box office: 01243 781312
www.cft.org.uk

Gad zukes! What a delightful piece of froth! Perfect for summer, especially given the Festival Theatre’s glorious setting (what could be jollier than a pre-theatre G&T in the park?), the 1930s novel by PG Wodehouse initially adapted as a play, and later as a film for which Gershwin composed songs, enjoys new life as a stage musical by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson.

A topping blend of music, song and ripping fun, the story is about as daft as they come. Maud, a headstrong 1920s English rose, is locked in the tower of a stately home and guarded by her dragon of an aunt who is determined to prevent her niece marrying a penniless poet. But it’s an American theatre director who is smitten with the girl. If he can’t sleigh the dragon then he’s set on shoving her out of the way so that he can at least declare his heart. Spamalot meets Downton Abbey. But with more tap dancing.

Marshalling the whole charming caboodle, Rob Ashford directs and choreographs. The score may not be the most memorable in the world, but a cast of ace singers and dancers give it all they’ve got, adding plenty of visual fizz as they belt and hoof with as much infectious enthusiasm as dazzling skill. Clutching mops, rakes, and even oversized quivering jellies, routines are high octane and high camp.

It’s a terrific team effort but Isla Blair as fire-breathing Lady Caroline is a splendid battle-axe. Richard Fleeshman as George and Summer Strallen as the feisty ‘damsel’ of the title are in superb voice, while Nicholas Farrell as the aging lord of the manor who rediscovers his va va vroom when he meets showgirl Billie (a warm and effortlessly sexy Sally Ann Triplett) is gloriously funny. Delighted to have found a siren who not only has a cleavage like the Rhonda Valley but who also shares his passion for pigs and roses, the pair provide some of the production’s most uproarious moments.

Further comedic expertise is demonstrated by Desmond Barrit as butler Keggs, and also David Roberts. Managing to switch roles between Perkins the theatre director and Pierre the highly strung chef, as the latter Roberts inspires yet more laughter. Richard Dempsey meanwhile is adorable as dim toff Reggie.

Designed by Christopher Oram, the set, as Reggie would say, is bally clever. Revolving rose gardens and castle turrets cunningly morph into the stage at the Savoy and the kitchen of a stately home.

Chekov it ain’t. Brilliantly executed blissful nonsense it most definitely is. Don’t be a frightful clot – book tickets today!