Grease at the Piccadilly Theatre is one of the most brashly unsubtle, in-your-face, crass and cynical shows imaginable. It is probably also the cheapest looking musical currently in the West End, with production values akin to a large armature groups.
When I sit down to watch such a below par, cheap and tacky money making machine, my heart cannot fail to bleed for the people for whom this is a real treat, a rare experience of the thrill of live theatre. I’m sure many of them will eagerly return to another West End behemoth for next decade’s theatre trip, and the packed auditorium was filled with people noisily (even ostentatiously) determined to have a good time, despite the shocking spectacle on stage, but I still have an objection to bad theatre however commercially successful it may be (and this is a licence print money). It’s not that I have some moral disapproval towards commercial theatre, I accept that it’s a business and lives in discordant union with the subsidised sector (like a Stanley Kowalski to a Blanche DuBois), but popular musicals should be fun, uplifting and most importantly well made. This is none of those things.
Grease is apparently Britain’s favourite musical (according to a C4 poll of a couple of years ago, now eagerly promoted by this production), and it is not served well by the reality TV cast production, actually a retread of the 1993 staging (so Joseph and Grease both simply resurrect old versions of themselves, isn’t it time for something new?). The 1972 musical (with the famous 1978 John Travolta film) is not a great show in my view, but I am convinced that it can be done with more charm, chemistry and brio than this clunking fist of a production directed by David Gilmore. The production is all about sex, but has absolutely no sexual energy between any of the characters, it is all laddish innuendo and nothing more. The acting is also rather poor, being of the broad as the Thames Estuary variety; the cast are likeable enough, but the direction has put a stop to any personality or character actually emerging onstage. The TV winners Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden as Danny and Sandy respectively are better then I expected (given the pisspor TV show), with Bayne able to dance and able to hold the required notes, and McFadden singling prettily and looking wholesome until her rebirth as a sexy chick at the end of the show (which is not convincing).
The music itself is awful, the huge sound emanating from an eight piece band (hovering on a platform above the stage) was enough to make me wish for a set of earplugs. Just like production the playing is over the top, overloud and jarring (but again, the musicians aren’t to blame, the director and his sound designer are).
This is a very obvious and non pc show (which would be fine if it actually worked), with no joy or escapist pleasure in the musical numbers (bar perhaps a hint of silliness during ‘We Go Together’ at the end of act 1, as no emotion is required and the whole company partake in synchronised hand jiving on the bleachers). Spending your money to see this production is not recommended, the DVD of the film and a packet of popcorn at home would be a much cheaper and more enjoyable experience.