Ben Elton’s new musical does have potential, but it is a little bit all over the place tone wise which means it needs some fine-tuning.
First of all, it has to be said that Twiggy aka Lesley Hornby has led an extraordinary life and while we do get glimpses of it through Ben Elton’s musical it doesn’t feel as though it goes quite into enough depth to make it completely satisfying although on occasion it does raise some pertinent points about how far we have come in terms of equality.
The story of how Lesley went from a typical teenager to becoming “the face of 1966” and beyond is certainly extraordinary and worthy of being told (it is a clever move to allow her to narrate her own story) and certainly highlights her strength and ability to cope with whatever life threw at her. It is just a shame that Ben Elton chooses (as so many musicals focusing on female stories do) on her relationships with the men in her life – in particular her relationships with Justin de Villeneuve (her first manager) and Michael Whitney (her first husband) rather than her successes (although there is a lovely line towards the end about her saving M&S). The sheer volume of songs, while add a sense of nostalgia and many times fit in with the story (‘Take Care of My Baby’ sung by her father to Justin is certainly poignant), it can also in places disrupt the flow of the story being told.
Elton’s script is filled compare and contrasts to attitudes in the 1960’s to the terms that we use today, which makes you question just how far society has come in attitudes since then but sometimes the way in which they are placed in the script feels a little bit awkward. The humour for the most part is playful, particularly during the interactions between Twiggy and her school friends, while the sense of poignancy and struggles that her mother Nell faced is powerful and we could have used more focus on these aspects which would have impacted on Twiggy immensely and feel slightly skipped over. It just all feels a little bit over the place tone wise.
However, visually this is a show that has plenty to offer. The inclusion of original footage featuring Twiggy adds a sense of authenticity with segments of interviews and Top of the Pops is effective and sweep the audience further into each era that we are literally swept through as the story unfolds and ends in the 1980’s. Philip Gladwell’s lighting design vibrantly captures the changing of the decades, while Jonathan Lipman’s costume designs are vibrant and stylish and Diana Estrada Hudson’s wigs capture some iconic hairstyles beautifully.
The show’s other strength is Elena Skye’s central performance as Twiggy. She really captures the spirit, determination and fear that Twiggy felt over the years with every situation that unfolded. She gives a well grounded performance and delivers some stunning vocals, never feeling forced in any way. Hannah-Jane Fox as Twiggy’s mum Nell offers a powerful performance, dealing with the issues that she faced with great sensitivity ( the scene in which she undergoes ECT is particularly heartbreaking), while the chemistry she has with Steven Serlin’s Norman is wonderfully tender.
Sweeping audiences authentically into the swinging 60’s and beyond, this is a show that does have potential, but definitely is in need of some fine tuning to draw the story out a bit more and become a little bit more tonally consistent.
By Emma Clarendon
Close-Up: The Twiggy Musical continues to play at the Menier Chocolate Factory until the 18th November. To book tickets click here.