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Review: Sweet Charity, at Donmar Warehouse

25 April, 2019 — By Julie Tomlin

Anne-Marie Duff in Sweet Charity. Photo: Johan Persson

WITH Waterloo bridge only a few minutes away, strains of songs from the 1966 musical Sweet Charity remained with me after I left the Donmar Warehouse and reached the erstwhile garden bridge created by Extinction Rebellion activists.

A strange contrast maybe, but Josie Rourke’s production, her swan song after seven years as artistic director, had more edge and less dazzle than Bob Fosse’s 1969 Hollywood extravaganza, and therefore wasn’t so out of sync with this other part of London life.

An exuberant show, full of warmth, humour and stylish flourishes, Rourke’s revival doesn’t gloss over the seedier, darker side of life in the Fandango Ballroom, where Charity Hope Valentine works as a “taxi-dancer”, and successfully adding dimensions of despair, heartache and resilience to her characters.

Anne-Marie Duff’s singing and dancing may not be perfect, but she works the songs brilliantly with husky soulfulness, vulnerability and anguish, as well as playful joyfulness, executing choreographer Wayne McGregor’s routines with such style that the effect is spellbinding.

Inspired by Andy Warhol’s Factory, Robert Jones’s set of silvered surfaces employs some inventive touches to deal with scene changes: the cast hold up handwritten signs indicating the location, such as “the park”, “the lake”; Coney Island is represented by the lit-up toys held by the cast and an overhead projector is used to show the progress of a lift in which Charity meets the neurotic Oscar Lindquist, played in brilliant uptight fashion by Arthur Darvill.

Adrian Lester, one of a succession of stars playing the pastor Daddy Brubeck, was brilliant in a scene of acid-fuelled ecstasy that erupts in the church of the Rhythm of Life. It flared brilliantly like a firework, leaving a small question mark about the need for such novelty. But overall added to a production that never once seemed out of time.

Until June 8
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