If the onset of winter, the continuing saga of Brexit and a looming general election is getting you down, maybe stepping back in time to a completely charming musical is what you need? That’s what the Menier Chocolate Factory is betting on with this bright and relentlessly cheery revival of 1950s hit musical, The Boy Friend.
Cast aside any thought of gender politics or anything vaguely considered a plot-twist and settle into the French Riviera in the roaring 20s, where a group of British school girls are planning outfits for a ball and lamenting the fact that they’re missing one of the most important things in life… a boyfriend.
On the surface, the whole thing is highly objectionable. A group of young women whose only goal in life is to get married (hopefully for love, not just money), throw in some French stereotypes that would sit perfectly in an episode of Allo, Allo, some over-entitled rich boys, and a bumbling, philandering old white man furiously bothering the locals and you’d think this is the last thing that would possibly work on stage in 2019. But it does.
This frivolous tale of a millionaire’s daughter pretending to be a secretary to find a man who isn’t chasing her fortune sounds like the plot of a sub-standard Downton Abbey episode, but by doubling down on the lack of sub-text, director Matthew White mainlines guileless optimism straight into your eyes and ears. There’s so much colour, light, music and movement you barely stop to question it.
It’s almost charming to hear the young couple dream of renting a single room in Bloomsbury as a sign of their modest goals – that would cost upwards of £1400 pm in modern London.
The Menier Chocolate Factory is justifiably renowned for staging brilliant musical revivals. Recent examples include Olivier and Tony Award winning productions of The Color Purple, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along and La Cage aux Folles, but I thought The Boy Friend might prove to be a stretch too far. Apparently not.
The young cast have a glazed cheerfulness in their eyes, like members of a happy cult, as they spin around the beautiful set. The older performers have a twinkle in their eye (especially Janie Dee who is having a ball with her ridiculous accent). Tiffany Graves steals the show as Hortense the maid.
I mean, there is literally nothing much happening other than a bunch of performers having fun and being silly. The plot is merely an excuse to move from song to dance number and back again, and the audience is simply loving it. And damn it, so am I, almost in spite of myself! But after a diverting two and a half hours, the realities of 2019 come crashing back in.
The Boy Friend plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London till 7 March 2020
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