Union Theatre, London– until 9 March 2019
Courtesy of choreographer Adam Haigh, there is some seriously impressive dance going on at the Union Theatre right now. You might expect some good moves from a musical Can-Can! but the full company sequences that book-end the show are full of verve and vitality and some jaw-dropping moments, which are all the more impressive for taking place on a stage as intimate as this.
Phil Setren’s production wisely scatters more dance performances throughout the show, ensuring that we’re never too far from a routine, as the rest of the musical is something of a mixed affair. A grab-bag approach to its construction means it often feels scattered – based loosely on Pinero’s Trelawney of the Wells but moved to Paris, it’s populated with both real-life figures from La Belle Époque and fictional characters.
Most curiously of all, for a show which carries the subtitle The New Offenbach Musical, the score then borrows from any number of Offenbach’s contemporaries to add to the two tunes by the Franco-German composer that everyone knows. Consequently, Can-Can! is at its best when it is embodying the variety show of the Moulin Rouge. Anachronistic hints of contemporary rub shoulders with burlesque and music hall and it’s all darn good fun as vague hints of peril are all overcome – the show must go on of course.
The free adaptation of Pinero by Phil Willmott is less effective and ultimately less affecting, these are characters made to be performers, who come to life when performing. Emily Barnett-Salter was born for the music hall, and to see the likes of James Alexander-Chew and Grace Manley dance like this is a real thrill (separately they’re great, together they’re exceptional). As a dance musical, Can-Can! is a high-kicking delight.