Police Cops: The Musical at Southwark Playhouse

There are gunshots aplenty in Police Cops: The Musical, set in 1980s America, in a show that sends up the ‘cop shows’ of the era as well as being something of a love letter to the genre. Jimmy Johnson (Zachary Hunt) sets out to be “the best police cop ever”, or so the ‘I wish’ musical number tells us – being young and impressionable, his life goals are subject to change with both the times and the circumstances. As it is, he joins the police, working for Chief Molloy (Nathan Parkinson). But, true to 1980s police cop shows, Johnson can’t be the best ever by himself, and, also true to 1980s police cop shows, Harrison (Tom Roe), who has long since left the force, is persuaded to assist with Johnson’s search for Hernandez, wanted for various criminal offences.

Tom Roe in POLICE COPS THE MUSICAL, credit Pamela Raith.
Tom Roe in POLICE COPS THE MUSICAL, credit Pamela Raith.

Rather than ignoring or skirting around the racist platitudes of the time, some of which still persist, the show makes light of it, pokes fun at it, points a gun to it and calls it out. There aren’t many shows at Southwark Playhouse that involve audience participation, at least not anything beyond an entirely voluntary clapping along to a jaunty showtune. But sit at the front row at your own risk at this production – a patron was brought on stage and was made the centrepiece of an entire scene, and not before a call-and-response tune had the audience, panto-style, deceived into singing something more than a little bit absurd.

Some ad-libbing, particularly from Tom Roe’s Harrison, added an extra layer of vibrancy to proceedings, with fellow cast members struggling to maintain their composure. The silliness is cranked up to the max although there is some perceptive insight in the closing moments about whether the role of the police is really to use bullets or to stop them: if Johnson really is to become the best cop ever, how should this be measured? It is a very vibrant show, and with briskly paced musical numbers driving the narrative forward, the sound balance between the band (led by Gabriel Chernick) and the cast’s vocals is pretty decent.

Not every punchline resulted in hearty laughter from the audience – one or two perhaps required a detailed knowledge of police cop shows of the time to be properly understood. The script references a broad range of other shows and motion pictures – everything from Romeo & Juliet to Back to the Future. The audience first meets Rosa (Melinda Orengo) as a fellow student in the school drama club Johnson belongs to, and later in a barely plausible scenario in Mexico. Then there’s Juanita Gonzalez (Natassia Bustamante), who has some very good comedy moments, laced with elaborate flamboyance.

It is the end, a lot of fun, with props being flung around with aplomb and some random moments (I quite liked the cop who had his reasons for going undercover as a dustbin, and a woman who periodically appeared, walking from one side of the stage to the other, slow-clapping whoever else was on stage at the time). The singing is as brilliant as the comic timing in this impressively entertaining and energetic production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

USA, 1985: Rookie Police Cop Jimmy Johnson joined the force to protect and serve… But now Jimmy’s in deep, partnered up with a renegade Police Cop and leaned on by a racist Chief. With guns loaded and safety catches off, Jimmy’s on a freewheeling adventure from the mean streets of America to Mexico, where destiny awaits in the form of grizzled ex-Police Cop Juanita Gonzalez.

Multi award-winning Police Cops are back and bigger than ever. Featuring an expanded ensemble and original songs, their unique physical comedy mayhem is supercharged for their most ambitious show yet.

Welcome to the U.S. Eighties.

8 SEP – 14 OCT 2023

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