Union Theatre, London – until 5 May 2018
Lionel Bart’s Twang!! first aired in London in 1965. The composer who, with his Oliver! had become the first British composer to win a Broadway Tony, died virtually penniless in 1999 and it was some ten years ago that his estate approached Julian Woolford to work on revising the show’s book, prior to a try-out at the Guildford School of Acting where Woolford still teaches.
One of the reasons Bart was to die broke was that he had invested a vast chunk of his fortune into the 1965 show that was to quickly garner the reputation of “the most expensive flop” in West End history and on close inspection it’s hard to discern quite what Woolford has added that might enhance the show’s standing. Loosely based around the story of Robin Hood (played by Peter Noden) and his Merry Men et al, Twang!!’s current iteration threads Bart’s numbers into a story that is as cliched and dated in its style as a Carry On movie – but which lacks the comic genius of the actors who made that particular style of humour a success.
That being said, there are enough moments here to make for a mildly entertaining evening. Bart’s songs have an infectious sixties charm that it is almost impossible to trash, while Mitchell Harper’s choreography is impressive and ambitious for the Union’s compact space. There are standout performances from Kweeva Garvey’s Marian (her singing of Bart’s ‘Dream Child’ and later, ‘Plant A Kiss’ is exquisite) and also Ed Court, a man who has long impressed as a musician but here delivers a cracking nasty Sir Guy.
For the most part the cast offer up a skilled, enthusiastic set of turns – though they are again hampered by the Union’s singular failure to mic their players. Notwithstanding any current contentious issues surrounding the “Professionally Made, Professionally Paid’ debate (and this reviewer remains blissfully unaware of how the Union tends to pay their actors) one might nonetheless hope that some of their show’s budgets could be deployed on some decent amplification. Maybe one day….
Woolford has scattered references to other famous musicals throughout his rewrite, and West End Wendies in the audience will enjoy playing spot-the-show in the throwaway references. And Twang! is worth a visit if only if only for a chance to revisit some of Bart’s gems.