Bugsy Malone is at the Lyric, Hammersmith until 1 August 2015. It is recommended for ages 6 and over. Tickets cost between £15 and £40.
When Alan Parker wrote the screenplay for Bugsy Malone, back in 1974, children’s theatre and film were practically non-existent. He wanted to create a movie for his four children – and so he dreamt up a story that would be entirely acted by children.
To a modern audience, Bugsy Malone might seem a peculiar fish. Tiny gangsters with squeaky voices, wielding genuine-looking guns which shoot people ‘dead’. And, in the background, a narrative about love, hope and poverty that would sit convincingly in a film made for adults. It’s only the custard pies and goo shot from the splurge guns that tell us it’s ‘for the kids’.
I must admit that, as a child, the film version (starring a diminutive Jodie Foster) left me cold. But, when transferred to the stage, the verve, energy and enormous heart of the screenplay shine through; the Lyric’s version, with jaw-dropping choreography by Drew McOnie, transformed what I had always thought of as a rather wan tale, into a joyous spectacle. Alan Parker was reputedly not a great lover of the piece onstage, but I vastly preferred it. And my son – as well as the other children around us – expressed their pleasure in giggles, shrieks and gasps. The small boy next to me even had to be prised off my lap at one point, when he rolled there in a fit of hysterics.
Bugsy Malone is the first show to be performed at the newly re-opened Lyric, after it doubled in size to include a dance studio, editing suite, recording studio and three restaurants (one of which, the Roof Garden, is open as a barbeque in the summer months). All the renovations are accompanied by a commitment to work with young people; if the Bugsy Malone cast is anything to go by, this should help support high levels of professionalism among fledgeling actors. Several budding stars shone out of this performance, including a super-slinky Asanda Jezile as Tallulah; powerful-yet-tiny Archie Lewis as Dandy Dan; soulful Marley Lockhart as Fizzy; and a magnetic Dale White as head of the boxing school.
Sean Holmes’ direction brought together a wide range of individual talents into an ensemble show, without dimming the lights of these mini-stars. A few extra solos were thrown into the final song, so we got to hear more of the youngsters’ voices. And at the end they broke into an up-to-date dance finale, taking it in turns to gyrate in the centre of a circle of clapping gangsters. The enthusiasm was infectious: we couldn’t help but get up and dance around in front our seats. On the way out, huge grins were everywhere to be seen.
Bugsy Malone is a punchy debut for the revamped Lyric. I suspect it may become the musical show of the summer.
Disclosure: we were given tickets for Bugsy Malone for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.