Garrick Theatre, London – until 29 September 2018
It might be too early for pantomime, but it’s never too soon to see Mel Brooks’ ingenious updating of Young Frankenstein delivered as a spoof both of the horror movie genre and of the theatricality of stage musicals.
It’s ingenious, funny, clever and corny and served by an excellent cast headed by Hadley Fraser channelling Gene Wilder but in finer voice and nimbler tap shoes. Shuler Hensley – for too long missed from the West End – gives the ‘creature’ both heart and soul and the extended ‘Putting on the Ritz’ routine frames him with a fantastic chorus line from the inexhaustible ensemble.
Because it’s more than forty years since the movie most of the audience will come to it brand new, and hopefully we can all overlook the 2007 Broadway production which went on tour and sank without trace. But even for those to whom it’s a classic there’s a real pleasure in recognising the old jokes which come up freshly laundered, and spotting new material expertly crafted by Brooks himself.
Brooks is the keenest observer of vaudeville routines, and the staging of this show like a fifteen-backcloth pantomime is a superb, knowing gag, as are references to ‘Antony and Johns Hopkins University’ and the ‘SS Queen Mary Shelley’. Reuniting the team from The Producers, William Ivey Long‘s lovely costumes (especially for Summer Strallen) and Susan Stroman‘s firm directorial hand both mean there’s quality alongside the bushels of corn.
All the ingredients are intact: the gothic location, an eerie castle, villagers with torches and pitchforks, Ross Noble’s first rate hunchback with his eyes bulging like Marty Feldman but a clever and sardonic comedy routine that’s all his own. Strallen positively burlesques the leggy blonde lead and brings ripe Germanic flirting to a climax, and staring down any suggestions she might be ‘past it’ Lesley Joseph makes the horses neigh and the audience cackle as scary housekeeper Frau Blucher for eight energetic shows a week.
There are some good ‘offers’ for family tickets, stand-by and matinee performances – so well worth checking the websites.
But it’s the best panto you’ll see before Christmas. Or very possibly next Christmas.