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Bonnie and Clyde The Musical at The Arts Theatre

The final outcome in Bonnie & Clyde is unavoidably predictable, but at least these fugitives do indeed, to quote a lyric, “both go together”. The journey this production takes the audience on, however, focuses more on the love story of its central characters. The Church, in the form of the Preacher (Ako Mitchell, whose performance reminded me of Big Daddy in Sweet Charity) and his happy-clappy congregation (the show is, after all, set in Texas in the early 1930s) was held in higher regard than the police, who were largely mistrusted, as this show would have it, on account of pressing charges against people they didn’t like, irrespective of any evidence of criminal activity at all. “You can’t arrest a man for receivin’ mail,” Blanche (Natalie McQueen) wryly points out, straight after Ted Hinton (Cleve September) threatens to lock up her nice-but-dim husband Buck (George Maguire).

BONNIE AND CLYDE. Jordan Luke Gage 'Clyde Barrow' and Frances Mayli McCann 'Bonnie Parker'. Photo Richard Davenport.
BONNIE AND CLYDE. Jordan Luke Gage ‘Clyde Barrow’ and Frances Mayli McCann ‘Bonnie Parker’. Photo Richard Davenport.

There is much humour to be found, perhaps surprisingly, given that this is a story about people on the run. Bonnie (Frances Mayli McCann) holds an absurdly small gun, in stark contrast to Clyde’s (Jordan Luke Gage) large rifle. Of the dramatized robberies, neither are all that successful – a textbook robbery, if there is such a thing, wouldn’t make for very interesting drama, so whenever they do get a substantial haul from a bank raid or shop theft, it’s only spoken about, and briefly.

The story has been simplified – Bonnie and Clyde had a number of accomplices in what became known as the ‘Barrow Gang’, though none aside from Buck and Blanche make it into this stage adaptation. There is much talk of Bonnie’s dreams of achieving success in the theatre and on screen, which might come across as misplaced emphasis in a tale about theft and murder, but it is indicative of her personality, and to some extent that of Clyde’s. They do what they do, not to fight back against the establishment, or to emulate the ideals of Robin Hood, but because, aside from wanting a better life than the drudgery of unemployment in the Great Depression, they want notoriety, determined as they are that “this world will remember [them]”.

Gage is sufficiently sinister as Clyde, convincing in his sheer determination to exact revenge on Ed Crowder, an off-stage prison officer who does things that really shouldn’t be demonstrated on stage, as he is in his utter disbelief as to precisely why he must come away empty-handed from a bank heist. (The audio-visual effect in a Crowder v Clyde moment is, admittedly, preferable to generous doses of on-stage fake blood.) McCann’s portrayal of Bonnie is nuanced, revealing a wide range of human emotions from vulnerability to assured persistence. The standout performance, for me, is McQueen’s Blanche: thoroughly unlikeable in her embodiment of the kind of Christian who sincerely believes an error committed by someone else is a sin, but an error committed by herself is a mere idiosyncrasy, the comic timing is perfect throughout, as is the Southern American accent.

The inclusion of childhood versions of Bonnie (on press night, Bea Ward) and Clyde (on press night, Isaac Lancel Watkinson) are useful, serving as periodic reminders of their lives before embarking on their adventures. At times the production feels so slick and stylish that it loses the ruggedness that a story about fugitives would benefit from. At other times, the stage effects are persuasive enough to elicit audible gasps from the audience, and overall, the show does well to strike a balance between portraying a love story of an inseparable pair and their criminal activity. Some scenes switch rapidly between what Clyde and his gang are up to and police plans drawn up and executed by Captain Frank Hamer (Ross Dawes), creating a compelling push-pull effect.

Nick Barstow leads a seven-piece band through musical numbers that are, taken together, in a variety of styles, including country, southern gospel, blues and those big ballads always appreciated by musical theatre audiences. Clyde, Buck and Ted harmonise brilliantly in the second half reprise of ‘Raise A Little Hell’. A committed cast deliver energetic performances in a show that might as well have had some divine intervention behind it. Worth seeing.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

At the height of the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went from two small-town nobodies in West Texas to America’s most renowned folk heroes and the Texas law enforcement’s worst nightmares. Fearless, shameless, and alluring, Bonnie & Clyde is the electrifying story of love, adventure and crime that captured the attention of an entire country. The show features the songs “Raise A Little Hell”, “This World Will Remember Me” and “Made In America”.

When Bonnie and Clyde meet, their mutual cravings for excitement and fame, combined with a desperate need to lift themselves out of the endless banality and poverty of West Dallas, set them on a mission to chase their dreams. Their bold and reckless behaviour turns the young lovers’ thrilling adventure into a downward spiral, putting themselves and their loved ones in trouble with the law. Forced to stay on the run, the lovers resort to robbery and murder to survive. As the infamous duo’s fame grows bigger, their inevitable end draws nearer.

BONNIE AND CLYDE THE MUSICAL stars Frances Mayli McCann as ‘Bonnie Parker’, Jordan Luke Gage as ‘Clyde Barrow’, Natalie McQueen as ‘Blanche Barrow’ and George Maguire as ‘Buck Barrow’. The full company includes Cleve September as ‘Ted’ and Ako Mitchell as ‘Preacher’, Pippa Winslow as ‘Cumie Barrow/Governor Miriam Ferguson/Eleanore’, Gracie Lai as ‘Emma Parker/Stella’, Alistair So as ‘Sheriff Schmid’, Alexander Evans as ‘Henry Barrow/Deputy Johnson’, Ross Dawes as ‘Captain Frank Hamer’, Barney Wilkinson as ‘Bud/Archie’, Lauren Jones as ‘Trish’ and swings Charlie McCullagh and Annie Guy.

BONNIE AND CLYDE THE MUSICAL has a book by Ivan Menchell (Blended [movie], The Cemetery Club, Death Note The Musical), a Tony Award nominated score by Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll and Hyde, The Scarlett Pimpernel), lyrics by Don Black (Tell Me On a Sunday, Sunset Boulevard, Mrs Henderson Presents). The production will be directed by Nick Winston (Director of the feature film Tomorrow Morning, MAME, The Royal Variety Performance) with Set and Costume Design by Philip Witcomb, Arrangements and Orchestrations by John McDaniel, Musical Supervision from Katy Richardson, Lighting Design by Zoe Spurr , Sound Design by Tom Marshall, Video Design by Nina Dunn, Casting Director Jim Arnold CDG, Musical Director Nick Barstow (The Last 5 Years, Zorro), Keys 2/ Assistant Musical Director Debbi Clarke Associate Director/Choreographer Megan Louch, Wigs Designer Darren Ware, Fight Director Kate Waters, Production Manager Phil McCandlish, Orchestra Fixer Rich Morris, Costumer Supervisor Jemima Penny, Props Supervisor Lizzie Frankl for Propworks, Company Stage Manager Paul Deavin, Drums Zach Okonkwo, Violin Clodagh Kennedy, Bass Guitar Annie Blake.

Bonnie and Clyde The Musical
The Arts Theatre

Bonnie and Clyde is at Opera House Manchester from Tuesday 19th March, 2024 to Saturday 23rd March, 2024.

Bonnie and Clyde is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday 18th June, 2024 to Saturday 22nd June, 2024.

Bonnie and Clyde is at New Victoria Theatre, Woking from Tuesday 23rd April, 2024 to Saturday 27th April, 2024.

Bonnie and Clyde is at King’s Theatre, Glasgow from Tuesday 16th April, 2024 to Saturday 20th April, 2024.

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