Nick Winston’s sleek production is filled with memorable touches – even if it feels as though the show itself could use slightly more character depth.
What an electrifying musical this is. From Frank Wildhorn’s gorgeously diverse music and Don Black’s effective lyrics all the way through to the stylish way in which this production has been directed and choreographed by Nick Winston it is a thoroughly engaging experience all the way through.
Interestingly starting at the end with a bit of a shock of the thundering sound of bullets, the curtain comes up to see the central couple slumped in their car surrounded by the cops – ensuring that the audience is immediately invested in how Bonnie and Clyde ended up where they did. What follows is a show that focuses on their relationship and their desire for fame and fortune (although coming at it from very different directions – Bonnie wanting to be an actress and poet and Clyde an outlaw), with flashes of images of the crimes that they committed along the way.
While Ivan Menchell’s book has elements of drama and surprising humour – there is also a lot of feeling of passion that drives the story along nicely through all the highs and lows that take place. However, for me the book could have used a little more depth in exploring (in particular Clyde) the couple’s characters and it doesn’t feel as though the sub-plot of Bonnie potentially being in love with Ted was really necessary.
This aside, there is still plenty to enjoy in Nick Winston’s production which really captures the sense of disillusionment and anger that existed in America at the 1930’s that is powerful to see. It is a production that makes a strong case to empathise with the characters in some shape or form given the state of the country at the time – but never once does it excuse their behaviour. Sleekly put together, there are many beautiful scenes dotted throughout the production including the way in which opening number ‘Picture Show’ is staged – giving plenty of insight into their upbringings and dreams as children and then how it blended into their adulthood, while the stripped back nature of the way in which ‘You Love Who You Love’ is captured is haunting and mesmerising. But it is also the way in which Winston ensures there is a hint of playfulness through his choreography to ensure it is entertaining and not overly sombre – as seen through the performance of ‘You’re Goin’ Back to Jail’.
But there is also great support elsewhere in the creative team. Zoe Spurr’s effective lighting design really helps to ramp up the drama and tension, particularly in the climatic scenes that keep the audience thoroughly gripped, while Nina Dunn’s video designs add an extra dimension of authenticity to the show in a sometimes chilling way. Meanwhile Philip Witcomb’s set and costume design has plenty of detail to it that ensures that the audience feel as though they have been swept back to the 1930’s.
This production features an extremely strong cast – all of whom deliver dynamic performances that deliver real insight into their characters (even if it feels as though some of them could have been better written). The chemistry between the leads Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage as Bonnie and Clyde is electrifying – you can really feel the intensity of their on stage relationshipthat is mesmerising to watch. McCann makes it clear that Bonnie went into the relationship with her eyes wide open – it was her choice and determination that led her down the path, highlighting her intelligence and sharpness. Her vocals are simply divine – just listen to ‘How ‘Bout a Dance’ or ‘Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad’ for proof. Meanwhile, Jordan Luke Gage offers a real fire and dangerous recklessness to Clyde that is equally compelling to witness – even as we know that it is ultimately this that leads to his downfall.
Elsewhere, it is always a real pleasure to see Natalie McQueen performing – her performance as Blanche is sharply witty, performing with excellent comic timing – giving her some of the best lines in the show including “You can’t arrest a man for receiving mail” when challenging the cops who come to George Maguire’s Buck to ask if he had heard from his brother. Maguire gives a believable performance as a character caught between a life of crime and domesticity.
Overall, while there are some flaws book wise – there is no denying that this production is a strong addition to the London stage and is worth catching for so many reasons.
By Emma Clarendon
Bonnie & Clyde continues to play at the Arts Theatre. To book tickets click here.