Review – Dames at Sea – Union Theatre (Southwark)


Union Theater’s string of all-male Gilbert and Sullivan has been broken this summer with a “straight” musical, the very-1930s Dames at Sea (created as a parody of the style in 1966). Set in a failing Broadway venue during the World War II, it’s yet another show in which songs are only loosely linked together by plot, in this case “small town girl (Gemma Sutton) comes to Broadway with dreams of making it big” (but with the complication of “star (Rosemary Ashe) stands in her way,” and not just in terms of having the role she wants but for stealing her boyfriend (Daniel Bartlett)).

Unfortunately, while this show is a parody, I wasn’t really able to get my head around the joke, as the production had all of the flash and dazzle of a real 1930s show (as done by a tiny cast and two pianos) but not enough zinging music to make it memorable. It did have some enjoyable tap dancing (hard to see in the 3rd row), and I loved the “Singapore Sue” number despite its tinge of racism – it was acting out a story that seemed reasonable enough for a sailor to have – and the performances were spot-on Busby Berkeley over the top hamminess – and Rosemary Ashe was four times the voice the Union could hold. But … while it was fine entertainment for £15, it wasn’t genre-changing and sadly the songs were not up to the musial chops of Irving Berlin or Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s fine entertainment … but I was hoping for more. Sad, actually, that the Union has set my expectations so high that merely “good” isn’t good enough!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August 3rd. Performances continue through August 20th.)

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