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The Bolds by Julian Clary at The Unicorn Theatre

We know the holiday season is upon us when fairy tales and children’s storybooks run amok as stage adaptations to compete with the manufactured jolly of Yuletide cheer.

The Bolds - Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
The Bolds – Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

The Bolds, Julian Clary’s popular series of books about a family of hyenas living in Teddington, makes its stage transition to London’s Unicorn Theatre in a near pantomime production that zings with music, slapstick comedy, dancing and corny gags. It’s geared for children, six years old and up, with lashings of seductive, sometime smutty, dialogue to amuse the adults who accompany their school-aged tots to this comedic fest of chaos and song.

But disguised within its colourful onstage mayhem, The Bolds is a strong moral tale about what it means to be an alien presence in a foreign land and the sacrifices necessary to blend in with the natives.

As the play begins, we’re introduced to a family of four laughing hyenas who come upon the bony leavings of the Bolds, an unfortunate English couple eaten by crocodiles while on safari in Tanzania. Mummy and Daddy hyena, fed up with foraging for food in the tropics, and hoping for a better life for their two offspring, decide to chance life in England.

And so, using the passports lying beside the slim pickings that once were the Bolds, the hyenas appropriate their identity and move into the Bold home in the leafy surrounds of Teddington. But of course, there are cautionary measures to be taken in their new roles as humans and the boom-boom joke-telling Mr Bold (David Ahmad) and his charming, practical thinking wife Mrs Bold (Amanda Gordon) warn their playful children Betty Bold (Mae Munuo) and Bobby Bold (Sam Swann) to never expose their tails to this society of humans.

What do you know, there’s a nosy neighbour, Mr McNumpty (the delightful Sam Pay) who is keeping an eagle eye on the Bolds and very suspicious he is, too, what with these strange children who rub their bottoms around the Bold property to mark their territory and laugh all day like hyenas.

Things become more precarious for the human pretending hyenas following a visit to a safari park where they meet Uncle Tony, an ageing hyena who’s destined for extermination by the other hyenas in the animal park. Not to mention the threat posed by the irrepressible antics of Betty and Bobby who’ve already exposed their secret hyena identities by unwittingly exposing their tails to schoolmate, Minnie (Charity Bedu-Addo).

The Bolds is a most impressive collaborative effort. Lee Lyford’s energetic direction keeps the play moving at a pace that quickly papers over its flaws and the genius of its sound design (Dinah Mullen) ensures a stream of laughter, even when the frenzy of joke-telling and screeching laughter loses its lustre.

Having expressed the above reservations, let it be said the children attending The Bolds – all wearing animal-like headbands, ie complimentary soft-toy animal ears of lions, tigers, elephants and giraffes, readily shouted to the actors when asked to participate and laughed uproariously in all the key places.

Ultimately, The Bolds could benefit from some editing. At two hours the continuous stream of joke-telling becomes unfunny and, as a vehicle for young children, it’s just too long. But from the perspective of family entertainment, it does its job.

3 Star Review

Review by Loretta Monaco

The Bolds are just like you and me. They live in an ordinary house on an ordinary street, and they love to laugh. But there’s one slight difference. They are actually hyenas!

But how long can they keep their beastly secret under their hats? Join Mr and Mrs Bold and their twins Betty and Bobby as they navigate work, school and friends whilst trying to hide their hairy tails and keep up their disguise living as humans in the quiet suburban town of Teddington. Whatever will the neighbours think?

Combining live music and songs by Julian Clary and Simon Wallace, The Bolds will have you laughing like a bunch of, well, hyenas, in a show which revels in the joy of being anything but ordinary.

The full cast is David Ahmad as Fred Bold, Amanda Gordon as Amelia Bold, Sam Swann as Bobby Bold and Mae Munuo as Betty Bold, Sam Pay as Mr McNumpty, Charity Bedu-Addo as Minnie and Jon Trenchard as Uncle Tony.

Written and adapted for the stage by Julian Clary
Songs by Julian Clary and Simon Wallace
Arrangements and incidental music by Simon Wallace
Directed by Lee Lyford
Designed by James Button
Lighting Designed by Anna Watson
Sound Designed by Dinah Mullen
Choreography by Natasha Harrison
Sunday 14 November to Friday 31 December 2021

Unicorn Theatre 147 Tooley Street, London SE1 2HZ


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