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Twang!! review at Union Theatre, London – ‘meta-musical with bags of heart’

The cast of Twang!! Photo: Anton Belmonte
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When the original production of Twang!! closed in January 1966, it was the most expensive flop in the West End to date. Its reviews had been universally damning and the production lost its composer Lionel Bart his personal fortune.

Since then, the Bart estate had granted author Julian Woolford permission to revamp the book for a production at the Guildford School of Acting. Woolford’s revisions completely alter the plot and shoehorn in a couple of Bart’s pop hits to supplement the score.

Not unsurprisingly, the result looks and sounds like drama school experiment in 1960s musical comedy. Recreated as an uber-camp meta-musical, the juvenile Broadway references sit uncomfortably in the story, despite the big-hearted new message – musicals are for everybody – and often catchy score.

Bryan Hodgson’s direction is curiously old-fashioned in places, occasionally saved by Mitchell Harper’s boisterous choreography. This is a rare misfire too for designers Justin Williams and Jonny Rust, whose set offers lots of levels but little finesse.

Atrocious sound balance obliterates many of the voices, but through the melee there are some fun and thoughtful comic performances.

Peter Noden as Robin and Kweeva Garvey as Marian don’t quite manage to steal the limelight from the Merry Men and Jessica Brady overshadows practically everyone as the earthy Delphina. Stephen Patrick is fascinating as Hob of the Hill, an incomprehensible but agile clown that smacks of old-style music hall, reimagined for the modern era.

It would have been interesting to see the original revived, but this hybrid will probably have difficulty finding a fan base.

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Juvenile meta-musical with bags of heart but a deeply problematic book