The Big Life review at Theatre Royal Stratford East

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Based loosely on Shakespeare’s Loves Labours Lost, this jubilant musical tells the story of a group of hopeful immigrants arriving at these shores in the fifties. Desperate to establish themselves and concentrate on success, a group of men vow to stay off women and alcohol for three years. Naturally, Cupid intervenes in his peculiarly insistent manner and a battle of the sexes begins.

This remarkably simple musical comedy bursts with life from the outset. Paul Joseph’s evocative score indulges in ska, calypso and a touch of jazz while Paul Sirett’s book and lyrics bristle with humour and pathos. Numbers such as Excuse Me allow the men to comically dissect British manners while it is Ferdy, played with great sincerity by Victor Romero-Evans, whose number The Price We Pay touches on the racism of the period.

Chris Tummings and a delightful Yvette Rochester-Duncan as Lennie and Mary provide some hysterical stand-off routines while the fragmented love affair between Neil Reidman and Yaa as Bernie and Sybil binds the story together. Claudia Cadette is an absolute hoot as Kathy, starchy and strict until forced to remind the men that there Ain’t Nothing Hotter than a respectable woman.

Choreographer Jason Pennycooke adds magical touches to the creative process with sharp, lively routines while also turning in a cheeky performance as Eros. Additional humour comes from the unlikely Mrs Aphrodite played by the irrepressible Tameka Empson, whose routines and reminiscences between scenes bring the house down without damaging the impetus of the story.

Production Information

Theatre Royal Stratford East, February 4-March 12

Paul Sirett (book and lyrics) Paul Joseph (music)
Clint Dyer
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Cast includes
Geoff Aymer, Claudia Cadette, Tameka Empson, Amanda Horlock, Antonia Kemi-Coker
Running Time
2hrs 35mins