Anyone Can Whistle Review: Oafish’s Revival Justifies the Show’s Neglect
like something as badly dated as the madness of the 1960s? Except perhaps the fuzzy romanticization of mental illness in this decade as a countercultural force, and the belief that women need to be “awakened”. Sadly, the first London revival of a Stephen Sondheim musical after his death last November is this 1964 misfire that confuses the three. Georgie Rankcom’s silly production, replete with downfalls, muggings, and enforced hysteria, makes the show’s relative neglect over the decades seem entirely justified.
To be fair, the problem lies less with Sondheim’s music and lyrics and more with Arthur Laurents’ book, which feels like it was torn down in desperation hours before the first night. In an unnamed and bankrupt American town, corrupt mayor Cora Hoover Hooper and her cronies fake the existence of a healing miracle spring to lure tourists.
Instead, he attracts nurse Fay Apple and her 49 charges from the local mental hospital, known as The Cookie Jar, who mingle with the general population and become indistinguishable from it. Mischievous young intruder J. Bowden Hapgood further confuses the issue. Because, like, who is really crazy, right, man?
Faye falls for Hapgood but can only put aside her sense of “control and order” (for which read that 60s masculine term, “frigidity”) by posing in her underwear and a pink wig in as an outrageously accented Inspector Miracles from Lourdes.
Honestly, where to start? The endless references to “nuts” or meaningless repetitions (“Hello! Hello! Watch cry! Reverse!”) that punctuate the script? The seduction scene where Faye asks Hapgood if ‘e like ‘eeps and ‘uh-ow-you-say-‘eeps? The insane and talkative non-sequences?
Rankcom recruited a partly smooth cast to buttress the idea that it’s a satire of conformity, but otherwise compounds the series’ flaws. The costumes are a gruesome and anachronistic pastiche of hippie clothing. The actors mostly use their own accents but adopt a uniform, desperate and demented air. There is gratuitous harassment from the public.
The show is staged transversely on a low catwalk between two rows of seats, and Natalie Pound’s five-person band frequently drowns out the cast. Too bad because Chrystine Symone as Fay has a great voice, and Alex Young as Cora clearly has some great tips too as well as comedic flair. But they aren’t given enough direction, seeking attention in a sea of rudeness, with newcomer Jordan Broatch simpering Hapgood.
Sondheim? Shit, I almost forgot. The score has lush moments though it often resorts to fanfare cadenzas, and moments of lyrical wit are balanced by silly rhymes (“it’s a sign/it’s divine/it’s a shrine !”). The title track and There Won’t Be Trumpets – which was cut from the original production – have become cabaret favorites for good reason. But there are also good reasons why this show is rarely revived. Rankcom’s production will please Sondheim’s bereaved finalists. Anyone more demanding should give it a body boost.
Southwark Playhouse, until May 7; southwarkplayhouse.co.uk