Marble Arch Theatre, London – until 17 February 2017
MICHAEL ADAIR GETS IN THE GROOVE… Sometimes the theatre can feel a little bit behind the times. The plots, the casts, the creatives and everything in between have yet to cease to amaze – but this is the age of Netflix, of ‘immersive cinema’, of a man selling a £1000 phone by telling us that ‘augmented reality’ is the most important thing to happen to anyone ever.
Indeed, when contrasted with all of these innovations in entertainment, stuffing yourself into a heavily carpeted space, with limited legroom and maybe a plastic cup of wine, makes a trip to the theatre, no matter how stunning the show, suddenly feel awfully old fashioned in its formality.
Step forward Five Guys Named Moe at the purpose-built Marble Arch theatre. Here, the venue in itself is an experience, intended as a homage to a 1940s jazz bar. Pre-show, a live band plays above a busy cocktail bar, where sharply dressed staff shake up typical New Orleans classics, Hurricanes and Whiskey Sours aplenty. The show is performed in the round – our cast sing and dance and move around the audience from a spinning circular platform, with the luckiest of ticket holders sitting at cabaret-club style tables in the very centre of proceedings.
The story, written by Clarke Peters, who also directs, is a simple one: Nomax, a borderline alcoholic who is having relationships troubles, is alternately comforted and challenged by a medley of Moes emerging from his radio to sing him the toe-tapping works of Louis Jordan.
It’s a fast-paced, funny and stylish cabaret performance from an impressively talented cast, all of whom are terrific, and bringing a different style and flavour to a lesser- known back catalogue than you might find at Motown the Musical. Particularly noteworthy is the six-piece band, who are often present on stage alongside the performers – walking basslines, rumbling drums, wailing brass – it’s euphoric and perfectly matches the soft jazz-club lighting and smokey ambience.
The emphasis here is on fun – the plot is incidental to the sheer brilliance and dynamism of the performances, which help ease the audience into some truly special shared moments – this was quite possibly the first time that I have participated in a cast-led, audience-wide conga line to the bar for the interval. Long may this concept continue.
Some traditionalists might take issue with the thought of touching a fellow theatre-goer’s shoulders, or, God forbid, running the risk of making direct eye contact – but ignore them. Five Guys Named Moe is an absolute blast. Go on a Saturday night, bring some friends, order a drink (or several); it’s the about the only trace of Old Fashioned you’ll find at this theatre.
~ MICHAEL ADAIR
Until 17th February
Box Office – 03333 444 167