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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Savoy Theatre


  Imelda Staunton/ Ph: Johan Persson

This is absolutely glorious. Arthur Laurents. Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s showbiz fable is a musical theatre great – emotionally rich, ballsy and heartfelt, and stuffed to bursting with great numbers that skip along, one after another after another, like an entire troupe of twinkle-toed, bright-eyed kiddie chorines. Insanely, it’s been 40 years since London last saw a production of the show, but now, at long last, Rose and her stage brats return – and how. Director Jonathan Kent and the matchless Imelda Staunton collaborated to heart-stopping effect on Sweeney Todd several years ago, which, like Gypsy, transferred to London from Chichester. Here, once again, they prove a match made in musicals heaven. Staunton’s Rose is wickedly funny, terrifyingly ruthless, self-centred yet big-hearted, a singing, dancing, motor-mouthed human juggernaut. It’s a truly unmissable turn.
She makes her first appearance marching down the Savoy’s aisle, yapping lapdog tucked under her arm, yelling imperious instructions to the hapless theatre folk marshalling a stageful of pre-pubescent talent. In a production in which every detail is meticulous – sparkling with tawdry glitter that barely conceals the sweat and grime of a life lived on the road, on the cheap and out of a trunk – these early scenes are thrilling. Stephen Mear’s choreography is all witty high-kicks and spirited hoofing, and the juvenile Baby June and long-suffering Louise are endearing and hilarious. Yet things only get better when – in a blur of locations and birthdays, somewhere in the midst of which Staunton’s gimlet-eyed, hungry-handed Rose grabs passing boys and hauls them into the car to swell the ranks of her peripatetic act – the two girls become restless young women. Gemma Sutton’s pretty June, condemned to arrested development by Rose’s ravenous and willfully blind ambition, turns her irritation and impatience into an escape plan. Lara Pulver’s lovely, witsful Louise stays behind, an anxious people-pleaser who, when Rose forces her to step out on the sleazy burlesque stage, turns into a luscious butterfly and, contrary to all her mother’s plans and expectations, finds the wings and the courage, at last, to fly away.
Pulver’s performance is gorgeous, and we watch her harden with sophistication as she wins the public’s adoration and makes it a substitute for the love it so often seems Rose withholds. There’s strong support, too, from Peter Davison as Herbie, Rose’s dogged, kindly and finally exasperated beau, and a terrific trio of strippers: Anita Louise Combe as the faux-genteel Tessie Tura, Julie Legrand as the lasciviously fairy-lit Electra, and Louise Gold as the unforgettable “bump it with a trumpet” gladiator Mazeppa – all three of them cynical and rackety, hard-bitten parodies of glamour.
But this is, above all, Staunton’s night, and she is sensational. Numbers like "Some People" and "Everything’s Coming Up Roses" pop and sizzle with energy and appetite. And that phenomenal 11 o’clock nervous breakdown to music, "Rose’s Turn," is simply devastating, her eyes wide and haunted as she gazes, gibbering, into the abyss of her life. It, and the production as a whole, is a genuine tour de force – and unquestionably well worth the four-decade wait.


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