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REVIEW: Me and My Girl (Chichester Theatre)

Until yesterday, my only knowledge of the musical Me and My Girl came from its fairly brief mention in one of Stephen Fry's memoirs; Fry had adapted the book in the 1980s for the production that ran successfully with Emma Thompson and Robert Lindsay as the story's protagonists. When I found out that Me and My Girl was going to Chichester Theatre, more importantly working with Fry's revisions, and even more importantly with a cast that made me drool, I knew it was something I couldn't miss.


The story, directed in this case by Daniel Evans, is one of class, when working-class Bill from Lambeth realises that he is the heir to the Hareford estate. If he wishes to improve his financial and social status, however, he must learn to become a gentleman and do as one would do were they bred from birth as the heir apparent.


At first, the offer is tantalising, and to whom would all that promise not sound delicious? If the Duchess, Bill's mentor, is to get her way, however, then Bill must first cast aside Sally, the only girl he has ever loved, and send her back to Lambeth should he wish to become the earl as his blood dictates.


While class distinctions may not seem as tantamount to respect and happiness as once was the case, this is something to which the audience can still replace; no matter what one's place on the social ladder, there will always be an overhanging threat of being pushed to the bottom rung. Very few people could say with complete honesty that they wouldn't sniff at the promise of a reputable stature and financial comfort. For a while, Bill was no different.


The story develops at a pleasing rate; character actions are believable as Bill neither immediately turns down the challenge nor turns his nose up at his Lambeth past. He is believable, and that's a relief; had he been anything else, then the story would have crumbled around him.


Matt Lucas's performance as Bill provided a fervorous journey as he simultaneously lost and found himself at Hareford. Had I not known that the character had been adopted by actors for decades before, I'd have been sure that the role had been written for Lucas, so incredible was his performance.


Alex Young shone alongside him as Bill's Cockney girlfriend Sally Smith. She reciprocated Lucas's comedy with ease, while also providing a chilling rendition of 'Once You Lose Your Heart'. She travelled with equal grace and strength, capturing beautifully the complex emotions of Sally.


Clive Rowe (Sir John Tremayne) worked fantastically alongside the Duchess, and Jennie Dale as Parchester stole the show at numerous points with her hilarious and frank performance; once you've heard 'The Family Solicitor' once, you'll hear it forever more.


Maria, Duchess of Deane, was admittedly what attracted me to this production in the first place. Caroline Quentin steps into the matriarch's shoes, donning sparkly frocks and wearing a metaphorical suit of armour behind which her emotions are shielded. She was fabulous throughout, but particularly showed her prowess during 'Song of Hareford', which completely blew me away. Alongside her stunning vocals, the choreography, with its dark and foreboding element of surprise for one new to the show, was impeccable. I adored how threatening the scene felt, a dramatic change of pace to mark a turning point for Bill, and I'm still a bit giddy about Quentin's performance.


The choreography throughout was mindblowing, and it's essential that I mention 'The Lambeth Walk'. The synchronicity during that number, and its later reprisal, is impeccable. The principals and the ensemble perform in sensational unity; to my eyes, not a toe was out of line, and, while I cannot imagine how much energy went into perfecting that tremendous performance, they made it look effortless.


What can I say? In the space of two hours and forty-five minutes I went from knowing nothing about Me and My Girl to declaring it was one of my new favourite musicals. The cast, the narrative, the choreography, the use of staging, the lights, the mood, the atmosphere...it was all seamless, and my only regret is that I went to see the show during it's penultimate performance, the matinee on its final day.


By Amy McLean


Caroline Quentin as the Duchess