WORTH A LOOK? ****1/2
WHEN?: Sunday 14 November 2021 (matinee), opens 25 November runs to 31 December 2021 RUNTIME: 120 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
2 of the older male characters are duetting at the tail end of this show: ‘Perhaps we could be friends,’ sings 1, as they alternate the next 3 lines. ‘That suits me very well.’ ‘I love your furry snout.’ ‘I love your musky smell.’
- Read on for reasons including how you hear Clary’s voice in this production without ever seeing him
For the uninitiated, the star of the annual pantomime at London’s Palladium (Pantoland at the Palladium last year and from next month Tickets) is also the author of children’s book series The Bolds about a family of hyaenas who travel from Tanzania to assume the identity of a couple killed by crocodiles who live in Teddington, west London.
We’re here because Clary’s writing is so sharp – his take on Covid last year was sidesplitting while ringing true – that we were intrigued by the success of this 7 (so far!)-strong series.
The advertising is for those aged 6-plus and it’s clear from the audience that the series is hugely popular with children and so we wondered whether there was also anything here that adults would enjoy also.
As we arrive for this 1st preview we think we see Clary sitting nervously on a wall towards the back of the venue before greeting the cast who look to be enjoying an e-cigarette or 2 between them outside the stage door before curtain up at the unusually early 11am.
We meet the engaging David Ahmad and Amanda Gordon as Mr and Mrs Bold who sing songs by Clary and Simon Wallace as they relocate to 41 Fairfield Road and struggle to act as humans especially when observed by grumpy neighbour Mr McNumpty played by the funny Sam Pay.
Pay and cast member Sam Trenchard also play musical instruments during the show to accompany the singing.
The humour is childish and often toilet-based with this sample line from Mr Bold: ‘I’ve got an overwhelming urge to rub my bum on the walls to mark my territory’ when confronted by his new Teddington frontroom.
His wife’s reply is pure Clary: ‘I don’t think humans do that sort of thing – unless they’re on Love Island.’
Soon the couple have children Bobby and Betty and the pair, played with spark by Mae Munuo and Sam Swann, grow up having a lot of laughs at school with their best friend Minnie, a joyous Charity Bedu-Addo, while their parents raise them to conceal their tails to not reveal their hyaena identites while their teacher is determed to impress upon them that ‘life’s not all fun and games’.
Mr Bold finds work as a Christmas cracker joke writer and the one liners come thick and fast: ‘Does money grow on trees?’ he asks the audience who roar ‘no!’ back appreciatively. ‘Then why do banks have branches?’
The plot such as it is finds the family missing Tanzania and deciding as overseas travel is impractical to hang out with the animals at a nearby drive-through safai park instead. Clary’s voice comes over the speakers as the safari park’s answer to Hi-di-Hi‘s Gladys Pugh. ‘Don’t get out of your vehicle or you might get eaten,’ he warns. ‘No stroking or petting – we mean the animals. What you do in the comfort of your own car is up to you.’
The Bolds meet lots of animals and eventually finds a family of hyaenas worried about their oldest member who they fear is about to be put down by the park vet. So The Bolds hatch a plan to rescue their elderly friend and bring him home to live in Teddington as 1 of them.
1 of the things that has so impressed us about Clary’s writing is how the filthiest of lines can be delivered in pantomime to much hilarity but when you actually analyse the words it is all about the delivery and the interpretation.
Everything is child-friendly here but towards the end our ears prick to the line: ‘Do you have an iced ring?’ And later: ‘Your plums will never be the same.’
The songs are not quite so memorable but are a lot of fun and Minnie even has a moving moment as she sings I Wish That I Could Be A Hyaena.
1 to avoid then if you’re looking for Clary at his smuttiest stand-up best but it’s lots of fun in a similar vein to his pantomime work although nowhere near as fruity.
With themes of being true to oneself, embracing differences and welcoming those who arrive on these shores from abroad it’s exactly the sort of children’s story we would have loved to have read when we were younger.
If you appreciate lines like: ‘There are a couple of giraffes living as humans in Richmond you know. Shelfstackers in Waitrose, perfect jobs for them.’ You’ll have a ball here and the Christmas conclusion is suitably seasonably timed.