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.