Review – Drunk – McOnie Company at Bridewell Theater

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Certain combinations of things set off my reviewer radar. New show, new space … is it a pre-West End run or a bad idea about to die? Given the miserable weather, a “musical dance revue” on the theme of liquor still inspired me to go and hope for the best. It helped that “Drunk” was choreographed by Drew McOnie, who proved pretty comprehensively in the Leicester Curve’s Chicago that he knows how to make people move across a stage in interesting ways. And on paper, the cast list looked surprisingly good – dancers from Matthew Bourne, A Chorus Line, really proven talent and very high in the UK scene … and even Gemma Sutton, the Roxie for McOnie’s Chicago. In some ways, the ingredients for success all seemed ready and waiting … rather like a top shelf tequila, a slice of lime, and a salt shaker sitting on the bar of a taqueria. Lick it, slam it, suck it, I thought!

As it turned out, Drunk overdelivered on its promise, with the eight performers positively burning up the floor in a series of numbers loosely structured by Gemma Sutton’s character’s trials (and memories) as she sits in a bar waiting for her date of the evening to show up. This sparked in her the questions, “What do I order? What kind of impression to I want to create?” but dramatically speaking her musings were simply there to tie together a variety of great dance pieces (and occasional songs) that incorporate ballroom, Broadway, acrobatics, mime (oh the polo ponies and rowing crew of Pimms, TOO funny!) and story telling in a entertaining and engrossing way.

As a dance fan, the moves were great, and even more intense given the intimate nature of the Bridewell Theater (I’m guessing it holds 150 people – though the sightlines meant that performers’ feet, and sometimes their bodies, slipped from view). However, as a musical theater fan, I loved how well the story telling took place – from pure comedy (“Fosters,” I believe, the tale of an Australian who failed at computin’ when it wasn’t about rootin’) to heartbreaking tragedy (“Scotch and Run”).

All of this was done to a very big band sound, thanks to a trumpet and sax (in addition to piano, drums and bass), which gave it a real classical musical feel. But best of all was the really top performers that had been recruited in to this show. The producers splashed out on real talent, and you could feel it, see it, all but taste it in your mouth. This wasn’t a workshop of a maybe show – this was a deep pockets investment in something really good that ought to be going places.

It all ended about ninety minutes after it began without once wearing out its welcome. With no snazzy new musicals on stage right now, fans of the form ought to get themselves to the Bridewell tout suite – Drunk is unlikely to stay long in its intimate venue with performances this big. Make mine a double!

(This review, which ran in a version in The Public Reviews, is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 6th, 2014. It continues through Saturday, March 1st. )

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