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A Damsel in Distress

Melle Stewart and Summer Strallen in A Damsel in Distress at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson
Melle Stewart and Summer Strallen in A Damsel in Distress at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson
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Having cornered the market in classy classic revivals that have seen Sweeney Todd and now Gypsy transfer to the West End, Chichester now superbly marshals its creative resources into creating an instant classic out of old ingredients, turning them into a freshly minted delight.

A 1930s PG Wodehouse novel that became both a play (co-written with Ian Hay) and then a 1937 film with Gershwin songs is now newly transposed for the stage by co-writers Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson for an evening of disarming old-fashioned charm that combines the tropes of a knowing backstage 'putting on a show' musical with a stately English country house comedy like Me and My Girl.

The result is a deliriously daft and delicious musical comedy of the old school, somewhere between Anything Goes (also originally co-created by PG Wodehouse) and Crazy for You (the 1992 revamp of Gershwin's Girl Crazy), that are similarly populated by aspiring show business types and the rich people variously trying to romance and tame them.

In an age of metamusicals from The Producers to the current Broadway hit Something Rotten, which offer their own ironic commentaries on the genre itself, A Damsel in Distress is both blissfully affectionate yet never affected as a young Broadway composer (Richard Fleeshman) and a British socialite (Summer Strallen) are set on an tangled but inevitable course towards each other in a dizzying, but always sincere, series of romantic collisions.

Rob Ashford directs and choreographs an absolutely luxurious cast that includes hilarious turns from Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair and Desmond Barrit, and the brassily brilliant Sally Ann Triplett as the leading showgirl.

Verdict
A fizzing, fabulous summer treat of a show that should warm up the winter, too, when it transfers (as it must) to the West End
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including a daily online column.
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