Soho Cinders

4
Tue, 29th Oct 19
With songs by Stiles & Drewe - seen at the Charing Cross Theatre

Stiles and Drewe's songs in Soho Cinders are a delight and this cast delivers them well. The book is somewhat laboured, not showing the same wit as the lyrics. I found the narrator tedious: why set the scene in such a ponderous way, when the set, costumes and dialogue do it adequately?

Young Robbie is struggling to keep afloat with his two step sisters conniving to cheat him out of inheriting his mother's launderette. He begins to innocently escort a wealthy Lord, but then falls for the engaged London Mayoral candidate James. Much cynical politicking is revealed as many secrets are revealed and things get complicated for them all.

Luke Bayer is a charming, gentle hero. Although some of his dialogue seems a bit fey, he carries it off with style and his singing tugs at our hearts, especially in "They don't make glass slippers". His prince, James Prince, played by Lewis Asquith is convincingly torn between his female fiancée and the young man. Tori Hargreaves shone as the trusting, betrayed Marilyn. "Remember Us" was a standout duet for them. Hargreaves impresses with her heartfelt character and steals most of the scenes she is in. Chris Coleman is satisfyingly sleazy as Lord Bellingham with surprise dance turns to complement his velvet voice. I felt Ewan Gillies could have given more vocal power and menace to his role as the spin doctor. Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman relished the roles of the slutty step sisters, revealing remarkable voices beneath their characterisation. I found them really unappealing which is a credit to their uninhibited performances. Melissa Rose blossomed as a timely Sasha, laying the ground for a topical reveal as the put-upon beggar saved as a political tool. Millie O’Connell makes Velcro lovable as the loyal friend: it is a pity she did not have more to do, but "Let Him Go" duetting with Tori Hargreaves, was my show highpoint.

The profile stage at the Charing Cross Theatre challenges Will Keith’s direction to satisfy the two sides of the audience. He does it, though I was aware of the actors' work to circle or switch sides so that we all felt included. He made effective use of the upper levels. Adam Haigh has choreographed lively work from these excellent performers. It was often a challenge where to look as the ensemble covered the full acting area. Really good work from those ensemble guys. Set changes were simple yet effective. Jack Weir has designed an intricate lighting plot to cover all angles: the cast need to be aware of finding the light as several were just off when I watched.

It's a heart-warming alternative to panto, delivered in style with a softly satisfying ending to tie up most storylines. Get out your best frock (gowns might be over the top in this Soho), and go to indulge in this tender, tuneful celebration of London love.

Derek Benfield


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