The Playhouse has gone back to its music hall roots this festive season, harking back to the rich history of the venue, which has recently marked its 150th anniversary. Michael Wynne’s The Star is a celebratory theatrical knees-up, drawing on the old-style variety show format with a behind-the-scenes drama and broad social commentary that makes for a fun, lively mix.
Michael Starke is the Chairman, an affable compere barely holding it together, Kermit-the Frog-style, as he attempts to keep the audience and his performers happy. There’s grande dame Ellen Bloggs (Eithne Browne), constantly threatening ill health and retirement; comic Arthur Crown (Danny O’Brien) desperately looking for an act – any act; and the Chairman’s old flame Ida Valentine (Michelle Butterly), a worldly Marie Lloyd-style headliner returning to The Star with a secret.
Behind the scenes, costume girl Dora (Helen Carter) and stage hand Jack ( Jack Rigby) are looking for love; and mysterious stranger, the cartoonish bon vivant Mr Charles (Kevin Harvey) has plans for the theatre that threaten everyone’s way of life (cue dastardly laugh).
It’s fast-paced and funny and silly, yet somehow missing a certain something. The cast is extremely strong individually and Wynne’s gag-filled text often pleases. But the knowing, fourth-wall breaking exposition seems lazy rather than cute (“this letter might contain an important bit of the plot”, etc), and the paper-thin plot strands are heavily signposted. Saying that, it is light entertainment, after all – The Star’s music hall element means a lot depends on audience interaction – the more singing along and responding to the panto-style drama, the more atmosphere.
Highlights include Jack’s devilishly tongue-twisting number The Rest of the Day’s Your Own (Jack Rigby is one to watch throughout); Mr Charles’s riotous Champagne Charlie – has Kevin Harvey ever had so much fun on the E&P stage?; and Eithne Browne’s full on Valkyrie number. In the end, it’s jolly, nice and festive and game for a laugh. Despite the feeling it has not quite lived up to its sassy, saucy potential it’s impossible not to make the most of the fun of The Star.
The Star is on at the Playhouse until January 14.