Home » Reviews » Privates on Parade, Noel Coward Theatre

Privates on Parade, Noel Coward Theatre

Peter Nichols
Directed by Michael Grandage
★★★★

Pros: A high-quality West End production with lots of laughs from a camped up, top-drawer cast. A play with lots of interest, an abundance of back stories and a layer of fun.

Cons: Though it is not billed as one, it’s more of a musical than a play. Desperation, loneliness and violence are made light of by jolly song and dance (fine if you enjoy that feel good musical theme). The ticket prices may break your theatre budget.

Our Verdict: An excellent musical-ish production, a fantastic cast, a really enjoyable story and wonderful staging. However, don’t go if musicals aren’t your thing or if you can’t get your hands on a reasonably priced ticket!

Courtesy of Johan Persson for The Telegraph

I have to open by stating that this was not what I was expecting from the first of five offerings from the newly formed Michael Grandage Company. But then I have to wonder why I am surprised: in his ten years as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, Grandage covered many genres with enormous success. What did surprise me however was that this production was very musical-like, not just because it had song and dance numbers in it, but also because it made light of the tough themes of soldiers in occupied territories, their loneliness and the dangers that they faced. It was very jolly in that ‘feel good’ musical way and for that reason it may not appeal to every audience.

That said there is no faulting the production as it is. The story revolves around the Song And Dance Unit South East Asia, a unit with the sole purpose of entertaining troops posted in the Far East. It opens with the arrival of the newest soldier, Private Stephen Flowers (Joseph Timms) and goes on to introduce us to the characters that make up this motley bunch of soldiers. Ultimately it explores their relationships with each other and with the folks back home. It appears very superficial and a bit stereotyped at the beginning – lots of camp, open homosexuality, homophobic rejection and bland acceptance. However, the characters develop as the back stories of these men (and woman) are told and I left with the feeling that this is an entertaining and intelligent observation on relationships, how they form and on what foundations they are based.

The cast is superb. Special mention must go to the always brilliant Simon Russell Beale, who plays Acting Captain Terri Dennis. Beale is simply fabulous as the incredibly camp but sagely sensitive ‘Aunty’ of the unit. He gives wonderful performances in drag in the style of Carmen Miranda and Vera Lynn and his impeccable comic timing and delivery make for hilarity at every turn. John Marquez as Corporal Len Bonny is also fantastically comical; his character is so well-written and Marquez really nails the subtlety required to deliver it with sensitivity. Mark Lewis Jones as the bad guy, Sergeant Major Les Drummond is convincingly menacing and Angus Wright as the imperiously religious Major Giles Flack adds contrast and dynamic to the story. Sophiya Haque as Sylvia Morgan, the troupe’s only female member, gives consistent credibility throughout the trials she experiences. There is not a weak performance amongst this cast – they give excellent, dramatic depth to their blithe characters as well as convincing musical performances.

The production quality here is first class and the staging, costumes, light and sound support the performance with vitality. This shouldn’t be surprising as this is a big West End production with seat prices to match. There are £10 tickets available – over 100,000 for the five productions – though the reality is that these seats appear to be in the balcony (above two circles), many with restricted view. These tickets sound like good value, but it could be argued that they are not worth much more than is being charged, unlike the £10 front row offerings at other quality theatres. Finally, I would suggest that whilst this is a really good quality and enjoyable production, it will appeal more to a musical theatre audience than a straight drama one (pardon the pun!).

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Privates on Parade runs at the Noel Coward Theatre until 2nd March 2013.
Box Office: 0844 482 5138 or book online at http://www.michaelgrandagecompany.com/whats-on/#privates-on-parade_page0

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.