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Review of Sweet Charity at The Donmar Warehouse

The company in Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Josie Rourke, designed by Rob Jones. Photo Johan Persson
The company in Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Josie Rourke, designed by Rob Jones. Photo Johan Persson.

Sweet Charity is Josie Rourke’s farewell production completing her tenure as Artistic Director at The Donmar Warehouse. The piece runs at 2 hours 40 minutes (including an interval) and is a celebration of the swinging 60s. The set is designed by Robert Jones as a homage to Andy Warhol’s “silver age” Factory, this works really well with the piece and triumphantly sets the production in the period. The summer of love (1967) is on stage in front of us, hippie fashions, an ode to love and drugs and time for women to better themselves.

The action begins whilst the audience are still taking their seats; actors move across the stage setting the scene and re-creating familiar scenes from the 60s, people write placards and hold them up, but instead of protest messages or signs of love and peace they literally set the scene, The Park, Tree, The Lake. It’s genius, as is the design of the production. In fact, I undoubtedly feel that the set design and production value are the real winners of this production.

Overall, I enjoyed this production – the big numbers in particular “Big Spender” and “Rhythm of Life” were fabulous to watch, the attention to detail was superb, Wayne McGregor as choreographer managed to create scenes that would survive as stand-alone pieces and really were the highlights of the production.

Anne-Marie Duff portrays the eponymous Sweet Charity: Charity Hope Valentine, the protagonist in “the adventure of Charity the story of a girl who wanted to be loved”.

Duff is an interesting casting choice, for me, her theatricality, comic timing, and delivery are sound. However, I did not feel any connection to the character at all. This is an awful shame, I wanted to love Charity and be on her side, but to be honest, I could totally see why every man left her and if I was dating her, I think I’d push her in a lake too. This was not how I felt about Charity when watching the 1969 film starring Shirley Maclaine.

Converse to Duff, Debbie Kurup and Lizzy Connolly are superb – both performers connected with me as they sang their hearts out in “Baby Dream Your Dream” and “There’s gotta be something better than this”. Connolly and Kurup emote through every fibre and are able to tell a story through their eyes, as they sing about leaving the Fandango Ballroom and making something of their lives. I was really on their side.

Overall, I really enjoyed the ensemble and relish David Grindrod CDG’s casting of a diverse looking cast featuring dancers of different colours, body shapes, and sizes. I applaud this and felt it worked especially well when the girls were on their conveyer belt rotating around the stage pitching for business whilst performing the show’s hit “Big Spender”. This scene is one of the most powerful in the production. The girls of the Fandango Ballroom pose in tableau on a rotating conveyer belt – they sing with venom in their voices and look at the audience with dead-eyes as they deliver the number that Fosse would have approved of!

The final scene I want to talk about is set in Coney Island. Again a beautifully designed scene where everything works in harmony, it’s a visual smorgasbord – a true visual delight. Here the ensemble take their places on the rotating stage by laying on the floor and holding neon models of fairground paraphernalia; hot dog, Ferris wheel, etc. Everything and everyone onstage is dressed in black whilst highlights of neon and flashing lights give light and energy to the set. The ensemble sing beautifully as we watch Charity and her lover Lundquist (played superbly by Arthur Darvill) talk about love.

Overall the show is solid entertainment, visually it’s stunning and I wouldn’t be surprised if the staging, lighting, costume and set design are all nominated for Olivier Awards this year.

4 stars

Review by Faye Stockley

The minute you walked in the joint, I could see you were a man of distinction, a real Big Spender…
New York, 1967. Charity Hope Valentine is a dance hall hostess who “runs her heart like a hotel – you’ve got men checking in and out all the time.” At the raw end of a long line of users and losers, she meets Oscar, a mild-mannered tax accountant, and Charity Hope Valentine once again puts her faith into love.

Director Josie Rourke
Choreographer Wayne McGregor
Designer Robert Jones
Musical Supervisor Gareth Valentine
Lighting Designer Mark Henderson
Sound Designer Nick Lidster for Autograph
Orchestrations Larry Blank and Mark Cumberland
Original Orchestrations Ralph Burns
Video Designer Finn Ross
Casting Director David Grindrod CDG

The cast includes Lizzy Connolly, Arthur Darvill, Lauren Drew, Anne-Marie Duff, Jo Eaton-Kent, Will Haswell, Charlotte Jaconelli, Stephen Kennedy, Debbie Kurup, Martin Marquez, Ryan Reid, Amy Ellen Richardson, Danielle Steers and Shaq Taylor.

During Sweet Charity, multiple guest actors will play the role of Daddy Brubeck including Shaq Taylor, Adrian Lester, Le Gateau Chocolat, Beverley Knight and Clive Rowe.

Shaq Taylor will play the role from 6-13 April, Adrian Lester will play the role from 15-27 April to include press night, Le Gateau Chocolat will play the role during the week beginning 29 April, Beverley Knight will play the role during the week beginning 6 May and Clive Rowe during the week beginning 13 May

6 April 2019 – 8 June 2019


  • Faye Stockley

    Faye read Theatre & Performance at The University of Warwick; she went on to work as a stage manager in London and Edinburgh. She had a year's stint on-board the MV Island Escape as a Social Host and Compere and now works full time as a Recruitment Manager for the broadcast, entertainment and media sectors.

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