The Finborough’s ongoing Celebrating British Music Theatre season has unearthed a show that’s a pile of cartoon strip cliches, but is paradoxically utterly charming even if its title character isn’t much of a charmer himself.
He’s Andy Capp, the perennially unemployed slob of a man – he’s not worked for 32 years – from Hartlepool, whose chief occupation of an evening is spending it down the boozer, and who dotes more on his racing pigeons than he does on his wife Flo. The character appeared in a long-running cartoon strip that ran in the Daily Mirror from the late 50s. He’s brought into three dimensional form by Roger Alborough, who manages to zestfully convey his essential laziness.
Any musical that features a row of caged (fake) pigeons – it’s Andy Capp’s main hobby and passion in life, apart from sleeping and drinking – inevitably brings to mind The Producers and its Nazi apologist Franz Liebkind. As a musical, Andy Capp occasionally strays into non-PC territory, too, in its sexist portrayal of women, whether as furious battle-axes or sexy dollybirds. But its leavened slightly by the cartoon nature of its characters, which are sometimes so extreme (and extremely played) that you’re not invited to take them too seriously.
With book by actor-turned-writer Trevor Peacock and buoyant, music hall influenced music by British pop star Alan Price (famous for 60s pop band The Animals), it premiered in 1982 at Manchester’s Royal Exchange before transferring to the West End, preceding Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers by a year, but unlike that far grittier (and more enduring) show, offers a cliched, if not patronising, view of working-class life.But Jake Smith’s witty, if slightly overcrowded production on the tiny Finborough stage gives it plenty of warmth, and a versatile cast frequently double as actor-musicians to give the two-person band added heft.