I am still not entirely sure whether Sir Cameron Mackintosh comes out of the Jest End 2016 season positively or not. On balance, it appears he does, else this production wouldn’t have given nods, albeit mildly sardonic ones, to so many of his shows. The Phantom of the Opera, for instance, is reduced to a skateboard acting as a boat, in a sewer, presumably beneath the Paris Opera House. Lyrics to tunes from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s famed Hamilton, to open by the end of this year in Sir Cameron’s fairly newly acquired Victoria Palace Theatre, appear in both acts, the first in a number about ‘open casting’ not really being as open as it appears at face value, and the second in a self-explanatory number called ‘Any Chance To Ham It Up’.
Briefly, for anyone who happens to be wondering what on earth Jest End exactly is: it’s a no-holds-barred, tongue-in- cheek love letter to London theatre. Nothing is off limits, and every aspect of the theatrical experience is astutely observed in witty lyrics filled with narrative, to the tune of musical theatre productions enjoyed recently by London audiences. It’s not restricted to the West End blockbusters – an entire medley set to songs from In The Heights, whose initial sell-out London run was at Southwark Playhouse, is included, as is a send-up of Side Show, just about (at the time of writing) to finish its run in that same venue.
It helps, as it always would, to have seen at least some of the shows that are so affectionately lampooned, but this season’s offering came across to me as the most versatile and inclusive yet. Even someone who has never seen, for instance, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar, or indeed any production of that show, would quickly understand the point being made about a certain lead giving a seemingly lacklustre performance.
“If you’re a fan of Motown just buy a CD!” is one of the many punchlines in this tight and slick show, and, sure enough, a number broadly in the style of Motown the Musical is cut short abruptly, as it would be in that musical proper. I particularly enjoyed a number about the actress who gets to play the ‘alternate Christine Daaé’ at Her Majesty’s Theatre – with only two performances a week (and apparently sometimes just the one), there’s a whole world to be experienced in the copious amounts of spare time available.
It’s not just the on-stage action that is taken to task, however. Time and again the ever-increasing full box office prices for West End productions is raised as a concern. But even more than that is a running theme about the auditioning process. It’s enough to put off someone aspiring to tread the boards, or at least from doing so in the traditional way of forking out an exorbitant amount of money to attend a prestigious drama school. That said, there was some affection for Sarah Harding, ardently soldiering on in a tour of Ghost the Musical despite some severe criticisms of her performance in that production (including from yours truly).
No expense seems to have been spared on costumes, as the show flits from Matilda The Musical to School of Rock The Musical to Jersey Boys The Musical seamlessly. A mash-up of the reworked Half A Sixpence and Mary Poppins impressed me – a reworking of reworkings, as it were – deliberately eschewing the obscenely tricky choreography in both shows, to great effect. The alternative lyrics had me in cahoots. There are no weak links in the cast whatsoever, though Adam Bailey stood out for me, once for a number called ‘I Am Barrowman’, to the tune of ‘I Am What I Am’ from La Cage Aux Folles, and later in a revised ‘Stars’ from Les Miserables.
Short and bittersweet, this laugh-out-loud show is to be enjoyed whether you love musicals or would rather be at a sporting fixture than a theatre, whether you’ve seen all of the shows referenced or none at all. I have seldom laughed so much during a single show – Jest End is highly hilarious, incredibly topical and remarkably up-to-date (even that post-show address from the lead actor in Hamilton to Governor Mike Pence is parodied). An absolute triumph. I cannot recommend it enough.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The hit comedy musical show exploring and ‘exposing’ the hits, flops and gossip of Theatreland, returns to Waterloo East Theatre after its sell-out season in 2015. Labeled as London’s answer to Forbidden Broadway, Jest End has been going from strength to strength since the birth of the show at Jermyn Street Theatre 2007.
Garry Lake in association with Waterloo East Theatre present Jest End – By Garry Lake.
Created and directed by Garry Lake
Choreographed by Rebecca Howell
Musical Direction by James Doughty
Waterloo East Theatre Brad Street London SE1 8TN
29 Nov – 18 Dec 2016