Noel Coward Theatre, London – until 13 May 2023
Back in 2009, when The Great British Bake Off first appeared on our TV screens, nobody could have predicted that a show about people making cakes in a tent would even get a second series, let alone become a national and international sensation. But the show’s wholesome combination of camaraderie, comedy, cheekiness and – let’s be honest – cake soon won our hearts, and the rest is history. We tuned in each week to see complete strangers we’d grown fond of produce beautiful, imaginative and tasty treats; we felt their agony when things went wrong, and we celebrated their successes when everything came together. Many past contestants are now national treasures, and some of the show’s biggest “scandals” have become the stuff of TV legend.
On paper, a musical based on The Great British Bake Off also sounds like it shouldn’t work – but when you think about it, all the things that make the TV show such a success are actually perfect ingredients for a feel-good night out. Writers Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary have taken the very essence of Bake Off and simply turned it up a notch by adding song and dance routines (which some might argue is the one thing Bake Off‘s been missing all these years) – and the result is completely delightful.
The plot is simple: it’s a new series of Bake Off and presenters Kim and Jim (Zoe Birkett and Scott Paige) and judges Pam Lee and Phil Hollinghurst (Haydn Gwynne and John Owen-Jones) are back to welcome a new crop of contestants. From posh girl Izzy (Grace Mouat) to hipster Dezza (Jay Saighal), student Hassan (Aharon Rayner) to fashionista Francesca (Cat Sandison), they’re a diverse and yet very recognisable group – we’ve seen all these characters before on the TV show, so getting to know them is easy.
Into the mix comes Gemma (Charlotte Wakefield), the “back up contestant” who doesn’t feel she belongs… but this is Bake Off, after all, and it turns out Gemma has quite a journey ahead. And nor is she the only one; as each of the characters opens up, secrets are revealed and we’re taken on more than one unexpected emotional rollercoaster. Pretty soon we’re so connected to all of them that an audible sigh goes up each time a contestant is eliminated.
Though the cast boasts some massive West End names, and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, ultimately – like Bake Off itself – the show is very much an ensemble effort and ultimately, who wins the competition is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Gwynne and Owen-Jones are clearly having the time of their lives as odd couple Pam and Phil, an only slightly more exaggerated version of the real Prue and Paul, and Birkett and Paige are a fantastic comedy double act as presenters Kim and Jim.
But without contestants there would be no show, and “the Bakers” give stand-out performances across the board. Michael Cahill and Saighal are consistently hilarious, Mouat and Rayner’s rivalry brings a little drama to the tent, and Moore, Sandison and Wakefield bring the house down with their solo numbers – but if anyone comes close to stealing the show, it’s probably Damian Humbley and Aanya Shah as policeman Ben and his daughter Lily, with their irresistibly adorable performance of duet ‘My Dad’.
There really is very little not to love here for Bake Off fans, from soggy bottoms to soaring vocals. The songs are catchy, the intros are cheesy, there’s slow motion dancing with whisks, everyone wants a handshake, there are innuendos galore, and someone might put their cake in the bin. What more could we want? It’s not highbrow, but it is the epitome of feel-good fun and I absolutely loved it.
The Great British Bake Off Musical is at the Noël Coward Theatre until 13th May.
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