Paul Hart, the artistic director of the Watermill has managed to follow up the wonderful Jerusalem with a brilliant fresh reworking of the sixties musical Sweet Charity with an extraordinarily talented cast of thirteen actor-musicians. It is sexy, energetic and great fun.The set design by Diego Pitarch is very clever making the most of the tiny Watermill stage space to create the multiple locations of this fast paced show. The images on the screen at back of the stage are modern scene setters , a lake complete with splashes, a lift that rises six floors, tube stations and streetscapes. In front two L shaped mirrors are manipulated to act as a revolving door, the lift, a phone box, the wardrobe as well as Fandago club mirrors. Six cubes are used for furniture, walkways and the parachute ride. It is highly imaginative and works extremely well. My only reservation is that it should have been set on a raised stage as the sight lines from rows B to D are poor when the cast sit on the boxes or the floors.
The choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves is exciting and modern and the routines very well drilled and executed although occasionally when all the cast are on stage with their instruments the intimate space looks overcrowded. However the "Rhythm of life" with Tomi Ogbaro (making his professional debut) centre stage plucking at his bass guitar and "I am a brass band" with the cast in red top hats are wonderful toe tapping routines.
The score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields is one of the most memorable and enduring of the sixties but in this orchestration by Sarah Travis and Charlie Ingles it is even more fresh and exciting with witty and amusing moments as instruments are integrated into the action. A flute appears from the cupboard , a guitar from above and the trombone mute becomes a wedding bouquet.The instrumental "RIch man's Frug " in the Pompeii restaurant is a lively dance with the whole cast playing their instruments on stage.Gemma Sutton as Charity is superb, energetic with a quirky charm and fine voice, she drives the show along with great comic timing, sparkling eyes and a broad smile. She packs plenty of emotion into her songs and renders an excellent version of "if my friends could see me now". The scene in the lift with Oscar (Alex Cardall) which ends Act 1 is hilarious. Her motivation is that without love life has no purpose but in its pursuit she relies on the fickle finger of fate .
VIvien Carter is Nickie , one of Charity best friends at The Fandango club (where Charity has worked for eight years) and is sexy and sassy and with Emma Jane Morton as Helene leads the wonderful "Big Spender" and "There's got to be something better than this". The three girls routines together are amoungst so many show highlights. They are well supported by the rest of the girls who when not dancing or playing their instruments strike a pose at the side of the stage while watching the action.Neil Simon wrote the book and it has his sardonic eye of New York life with the men being thieves, unreliable, or weak but he wrote alternative endings . In the original Charity ends the musical as she starts it pushed into a lake by her boyfriend, in another she lives hopefully happily ever after but single and in another she marries Oscar. I won't spoil it by saying which Hart picks.
The Watermill is a remarkable venue turning out consistently high quality productions and turning the limitations of the venue to its own advantage. Sweet Charity is another huge success which sends you home humming the tunes. The multitalented cast deliver a wonderful uplifting slick show and definitely worth the trip along the M4 before it closes on 15th September.
Review by Nick Wayne
Seat : row D Stalls | Price: £22