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Sweet Charity - Donmar Warehouse

It was like listening to a cat being strangled. I mean, it really was that unpleasant. Anne-Marie Duff, who takes on the title role in the Donmar Warehouse production of Sweet Charity, acts the part tremendously well, and the spoken dialogue with her lover, Oscar Lindquist (a commensurately sublime Arthur Darvill) was convincing enough. But when it comes to singing – goodness me, I know I can’t sing to save my life, but I would never agree to do a musical! Ms Duff probably wasn’t as terrible in her own right as I’m making her out to be, and her previous body of work across plays, film and television is very impressive. But surrounding her with the likes of fourteen others who can sing brilliantly only seeks to exacerbate a comparative weakness.

I have it on good authority that people like Gemma Sutton and Rebecca Trehearne have played Charity Hope Valentine in previous productions. Put Duff’s singing voice against that of Martin Marquez’s Vittorio Vidal, as the show does in the first half, and her ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ is lukewarm at best as opposed to his impassioned but never melodramatic ‘Too Many Tomorrows’. I know I’m going on about this, but a theatre of the Donmar’s calibre really should cast people who can sing to sing. They managed to do so with everyone else!

It was difficult to warm to Charity – this is my first Sweet Charity (apart from seeing the movie), but I would consider seeing another production in the future – and I felt little sympathy for her when Oscar decides (for reasons explained in the narrative) that, actually, he doesn’t want to marry Charity after all. I understood reasonably well from the dialogue and staging that one is supposed to feel a degree of sympathy for Charity – having left her employment, back in the days when (some) women did that sort of thing when entering matrimony, she must now rebuild her life almost from scratch.

A fellow theatregoer found the ending rather sad. I think it is open-ended, really, in that while Charity’s future may not be the one she had hoped for and planned for, her personal position in life come the curtain call is a great opportunity to start afresh. She hated her job, with some justification, and she managed to get out, so the potential for success is still very much there. It may not be a conventional happy conclusion to a musical theatre story, but for me it’s more of a pragmatic one than a pessimistic one.

Wayne McGregor’s choreography suits the performance space very well, a departure from the Bob Fosse moves which will upset the purists (but then again, what doesn’t?) but it’s nonetheless exquisite and a joy to sit and witness. I’d never sat in the circle at the Donmar before, but I’d say that at least for this production, it’s a better vantage point than the stalls – there are two flights of stairs on stage, and that staircase gets a fair bit of use.

Then there’s Daddy Brubeck, played in the week I saw this production by Le Gateau Chocolat (a stage name, obvs), who marched on for ‘The Rhythm of Life’ early in the second half, and wasn’t to be seen again. According to Chocolat’s Twitter, he tried to get back to the Donmar for the curtain call having escaped to a birthday party, but Piers Morgan was making a speech and rattled on for too long, so he arrived back in Covent Garden just as the audience started to file out. For the one song he was given, he swaggered and strutted his stuff, and puffed on a ridiculously oversized spliff. Yes, it was hammy. But it was also hugely enjoyable. Pity the producers didn’t put him in the lead role and make a drag act out of Charity Hope Valentine: that really would have brought the house down.

At Donmar Warehouse until 8 June 2019.

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