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Legally Blonde at the Playground Theatre | Review

Legally Blonde is arguably even more relevant in 2024 than it was when the Savoy Theatre production began previews in December 2009, in part thanks to the #MeToo Movement, which started in 2006 but only really took off in 2017. But there’s so much more to Legally Blonde than Elle Woods (at the performance I attended, Amelia Fadden, the role shared with Arwyn Vernold) confiding in teaching assistant Emmett Forrest (Ruairi Dickson) that [Professor] Callahan (Matt Bacon) hit on me”.

The cast of Legally Blonde at Playground Theatre. Photo credit Bethany Halford
The cast of Legally Blonde at Playground Theatre. Photo credit Bethany Halford

Indeed, the payback is glorious, even if it is a little fantastical, as various narrative strands come together with the subtlety of a town crier. Naturally, there’s a need to put aside, this being a student production, that Elle’s parents (Joe Roper and Sussanna Kable) look as though they are in the same age bracket as Elle herself. The set is largely comprised of four mobile platforms, each of which spelt out a letter in the word ‘Elle’ on one side and had a number of compartments and ledges on the other. I was slightly mischievously waiting to see if there was, however inadvertently and momentarily, ever going to be a moment when the letters spelt ‘Lele’ or ‘Eell’ – fair play to the production, it never happened, which was quite an achievement given how much the set and props needed to move around throughout the evening to transform the stage from, say, lecture theatre to dormitory room.

That the set was relatively minimal allowed for swift scene changes. A four-piece band led by Greg Arrowsmith did very well throughout the performance, with Andrew Johnson’s sound design ensuring a decent balance between band and cast. A playful on-stage chemistry between Fadden’s Elle and Dickson’s Forrest was very convincing and contrasted well with the slight awkwardness between Elle and her love interest Warner Huntington III (Marc Favre). May Tether’s choreography suited the performance space brilliantly, and despite a large cast performing in a studio space, the stage never felt too crowded.

Much has been said elsewhere, and rightly so, about the class system in Britain, although Elle’s experience at Harvard Law not only suggests but boldly demonstrates that America isn’t exactly equal: her student journey isn’t, to begin with, that far removed from the title character in the Willy Russell play Educating Rita. ‘Go back to Malibu!’ is the general sentiment of the more snobby classmates. Substitute ‘Malibu’ with any other place name where someone from elsewhere may have come from, and it’s indicative of how intolerant some people really are.

The portrayal of the legal profession as cutthroat and ruthless came across loud and clear, and what gives the show a strong appeal is that Elle’s success comes through hard work, even if it had to be teased out of her by Emmett. A local hairdresser, Paulette (Laurie Hass-Sinclair) practically stole the show in the first half with two songs about the same thing, ‘Ireland’ and ‘Ireland (Reprise)’. In the second half, there’s something for almost everyone, with the ‘Bend and Snap’ either helping or hindering, depending on one’s perspective, Paulette’s hopes for romance with her delivery driver, Kyle (Ilya Akinfiev) and ‘There! Right There!’ thanks to Niccolo Maccaferri’s Nikos and Thomas Turner’s Carlos, was utterly hilarious.

Above all, there was the sense that the cast were thoroughly enjoying themselves, which ultimately rubbed off on the audience. It would have taken a very hard heart indeed not to have come away with a smile on one’s face. The future of musical theatre is looking very bright and energetic with students like these coming through the ranks: full marks, then, for a performance without fault.

5 Star Rating

CAST
Elle Woods: Amelia Fadden/Arwyn Vernold
Emmett Forrest: Ruairi Dickson
Vivienne Kensington: Alice Orlik
Warner Huntington III: Marc Favre
Paulette: Laurie Hass-Sinclair
Professor Callahan: Matt Bacon
Brooke Wyndham: Tara Wilkes
Margot: Eliza Pescott
Serena: Millie Gee Land
Pilar: Charley Rees
Enid Hoopes: Tegan Theobald
Ensemble: Ilya Akinfiev, Anna Garcia-Healy, Joe Roper, Sussanna Kable, Niccolo Maccaferri, Jemma Walton, Thomas Turner, Emma Montgomery, Sophie Croxford, Hannah Evans-Lutterodt, Nanaho Chiba, Jasmine Mia Morris, Oyin Olutokun, Bria-Olivia Salmon, Beth King, Jemma Loader

CREATIVE TEAM
Director: Tracy Collier
Musical Director: Greg Arrowsmith
Choreographer: May Tether
Associate Choreographer: Lucy Aiston
Set Designer: Ethan Cheek
Costume Designer: Alice McNicholas
Lighting Designers: Jamie Platt, Jack Weir and Aaron Dootson
Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson

Based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture, Legally Blonde follows Elle Woods as she journeys to Harvard Law School. With music and lyrics from Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Bach, the show is vibrant, joyous and heart-warming.

Leontine Hass on behalf of Associated Studios presents
LEGALLY BLONDE
Playground Theatre
12 to 15 June 2024

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