★★★ Oh, What A Sitcom War!

Doodle The Musical
Waterloo East Theatre
12th January 2018

Simon Ward reviews Doodle The Musical at the Waterloo East Theatre

One of the abiding mysteries to our soon-to-be former friends in Europe is Britain’s never ending fascination with the Second World War. And certainly TV sitcoms in the 1970s and 80s bore that observation out, from Dad’s Army to It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and ‘Allo ‘Allo with an occasional showing of Carry On Sergeant thrown in for good measure.

Much of the comedy here is uncomfortably of the 1970s as well – we have camp policemen pursuing cottagers in lavatories (did they even do this in the middle of the war?), outrageous Julian and Sandy-style gay members of the team, gratuitous nudity including a (mercifully) prosthetic penis etc. One stand-out performance aside, this feels like a throwback, and not in a good way.

So there is much comedic homage in this musical extravaganza along with, of course, the WWII staples of Sunday afternoon entertainment where our boys fought off the Gerries against all the odds.  You will know the drill. The Germans are ruthlessly efficient; the English are hopeless and always desperate for a nice cuppa. George VI has a speech impediment; Churchill has a fat cigar; women are only good for making the aforementioned cuppa.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around an attempt to rescue Barnes Wallis (of Dam Busters bouncing bomb fame) who has been captured by the Nazis. Ironically the Germans recognise the potential of his inventions while the Brits are blinded by a rivalry from school days.

An ill-assorted bunch of actors is assembled for the mission on the grounds that it doesn’t much matter if they fail.  Jonathan Kydd as writer is obviously bursting with ideas, not all of which should really have made it into the final cut.  Many gags are set up which are never followed through – for example the only comedy name which is really worked is Deadman, and this is actually very funny, including the anachronistic Star Trek red shirt he wears. The David Niven and Errol Flynn characters are sadly not good enough as mimics and not given enough script to work with.

However, there are weird and unexpected things here which lifts it above the average. Barnes Wallis is in love with the robot he has created (if only they had a sound effect for his incessant flicking of his tin head which always just sounds like cardboard).  There is a strong and increasingly insistent feminist thread running through the show with an absolute stand-out performance from Sooz Kempner.  She earns an extra star on her own.  The video projections are excellent but feel like a standalone work, and we don’t really get enough time to enjoy them.  A relatively large cast nevertheless has an heroic amount of doubling to do, which they carry off admirably.

This is a musical, so a word about the music and lyrics.  There are good things here, however the music is not really memorable enough and the initial promise of the amusing lyrics is rarely followed up with much in the way of interesting development.  Gianna Burright’s choreography is entertaining.

Underneath a railway arch, which may well have been used as a shelter in its time, this is a play well matched to its location.  But please can this be the last comedic word on The War?

Runs until 28th January at Waterloo East

Categories: review

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