Naughty but not nice


LADIES of easy virtue are fa­mil­iar fig­ures in mu­si­cal the­atre, from Oliver! to Les Miserables. This low­bud­get new mu­si­cal, writ­ten and di­rected by Lisa For­rell, with mu­sic and lyrics by Brett Kahr, goes one stiletto fur­ther and lo­cates the en­tire show in a brothel.

It’s set in present-day Cam­ber­well, a part of Lon­don im­prob­a­bly billed as “fur­ther south than you have ever been”. The plot con­cerns birth­day girl Su­gar, who is told by her mother Des­de­mona – an ago­ra­pho­bic Cre­ole madam – that she must “grad­u­ate to level two” with pun­ters now that she has turned 13. As a spe­cial treat, she will be al­lowed to keep all of that day’s tak­ings.

A child­ish in­no­cent in a world too grim for most adults, Su­gar seems to know no­body in the area she has lived all her life and has ap­par­ently never even vis­ited the cor­ner shop un­til the day we meet her. There she en­coun­ters kind­hearted Rem, who seems to of­fer a way out of her plight.

There is cur­rently a gen­er­a­tion of tal­ented young drama­tists ded­i­cated to bring­ing the id­ioms and rhythms of Lon­don­ers at the mar­gins to the mod­ern stage. Un­for­tu­nately, For­rell is not one of them. Her tale could be grit­tily shock­ing, but it is treated with such trite sen­ti­men­tal­ity here that it never seems re­motely au­then­tic.

The per­form­ers, in­clud­ing a doe-eyed Na­dia Di Mam­bro as Su­gar and Me­lanie La Barrie as her purring ti­gress of a mother, are all way too good for the ma­te­rial.

There is lit­tle any of them can do with un­mem­o­rable tunes – scored as if we’re in 19th-cen­tury Paris rather than 21st-cen­tury Lon­don – and flimsy lyrics. The sup­port­ing char­ac­ters are one-di­men­sional stereotype­s – one of them is even called Card­board – and the sin­glestrand story is not enough to sus­tain a two-hour show.

Oc­ca­sion­ally it rises above the ba­nal. A song called This House Is Clean, about pros­ti­tutes dis­in­fect­ing the brothel af­ter the pun­ters have left, is one of two num­bers which of­fer some des­per­ately needed wit, and La Barrie pitches her­self might­ily into a pair of belt­ing emo­tional songs at the end of each act.

But the whole busi­ness is in very du­bi­ous taste. I wouldn’t nor­mally give away the res­o­lu­tion, but if I tell you that the “happy” end­ing here in­volves Su­gar sob­bing in her mother’s arms and get­ting spe­cial per­mis­sion not to do any pun­ters for a whole day, you will see how woe­fully ill-con­ceived the show is.


CALL ME MADAM: Me­lanie La Bar­rie stars as Des­de­mona

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