Marble Arch Theatre, London
Guest reviewer: Sarah Tinsley
A tent has popped up near Hyde Park, right next to the Marble Arch. Step inside and you will be transported to New Orleans, with a bouncing bar, a band to match and Southern-style decor and atmosphere that will take you back to a swinging time. The pop-up Marble Arch theatre (created by Underbelly) has been designed specifically for this toe-tapping anniversary production of Five Guys Named Moe.
We open on Nomax, a disheartened drunk who’s been having trouble with his girl. Cue the five Moe’s, who literally burst onto the stage from nowhere, bringing foot-tapping soulful tunes to liven up the mood and put him on the right path. Which is pretty much it, as far as the plot is concerned. However, the excuse to re-ignite the music of Louis Jordan (hailed as the original creator of Rn’B and Rock and Roll) is a welcome one, and the skeleton storyline doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the show.
The writer, Clarke Peters (better known these days for The Wire), is directing this production, taking it back to its roots and putting in a few modern twists to ensure it’s just as enjoyable now as it was during its four-year stint at the West End.
Talent, exuberance, and showmanship of the Five Moes are unparalleled. Each with a particular quirk of character and flair for performance, they act as a go-between for the audience, ramping up the excitement and drawing us into the story. Highlights included Messy Bessy, Saturday Night Fish Fry and Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens, while the beautiful Knock Me A Kiss was a stunning moment of close a cappella harmony. Whatever your musical taste, you will find something here to get you moving.
In the first few songs, there were a few lyrics that grated. This production really tried to ham up the ‘tongue in cheek’ nature of songs like I Like ‘Em Fat Like That! And Messy Bessy, while there was even an apology for the chauvinistic nature of some of the songs in the second act. As the show progressed, the songs became less problematic and it felt like the audience relaxed.
Photo Credit Helen Maybanks
As the mood really heated up towards the end of the first act, we truly became part of the show, singing along and clapping, before joining a conga out towards the bar for the interval. This was possibly dragged out a little, but that could well have been opening-night exuberance. If possible, the second act managed to be more exuberant than the first, shifting as it did to more of a club-style performance, where we could sit back and enjoy the songs, with the main part of the story complete. The boys hyped up the mood and smoothed out the ballads even more, leaving everyone dancing on their feet by the end of the show.
A high-energy delight that will leave you humming and tapping your feet all the way home.
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