Saturday, 28 April 2018

'Twang!!' at the Union Theatre

The Union Theatre is a small space under the railway arches between Waterloo and London Bridge stations, it's small, it's bijou, it's unpretentious and it puts on stuff that you probably wouldn't see at any mainstream theatre. It put on Sondheim's 'Assassins' long before the Choccy Factory down the road thought of doing it and also the Pet Shop Boys musical 'Closer To Heaven' so it knows it's stuff. It had a tiny front of house area and a stage area blocked by odd columns all over the place but it tried and was worthy. Then, last year, it moved over the road (literally) to a space at least twice the size of the space it occupied and the other night was my first visit to the new venue to see 'Twang!!'.

Outdoors seating in the alley leading up to it (and other trendy restaurants) and a large cafe/bar area indoors was most impressive, so much bigger than the dark and dingey bar I was used to. Going up to get the tickets I'd booked online and it still doesn't have numbered seats, rather you get a token to go into the theatre in groups and you can sit anywhere. And that's where the scales started falling from my eyes.

Standing at the bar where two staff were chatting to each other and a third was chatting to her mate on the other side of the bar and I'm standing there wondering if I should clear my throat to prove I wasn't invisible is hardly the welcome I hoped for. Then having a poorly stocked bar and getting a glass of warm red wine that made me wish for ice cubes. The front of house staff in scruffy shorts and vests telling us to wait because 'there were more 3s' when we were 4s despite no-one else waiting to enter the auditorium. Um, what's that all about? Uncomfortable seats, narrow corridor between the seats with duct tape keeping the carpet covering down - I thought this was a 'new' theatre?

Then we get to the play, the little performed 'Twang!!' by Lionel Bart (of 'Oliver' fame) and re-written at some point to include references to other musicals. It's the tale of Robin Hood based on the Hollywood film, one of my favourites, so I ought to have loved it. But, it just isn't a very good musical and, if you've got poor material, then there's only so much you can do with it. I really felt for the actors trying to make this work but, quite frankly, it didn't. And I'm sorry about that.

I have no idea what the original was like but why on earth did the director make them play it like this? A camp troop of men in shorts with Lily Savage as Will Scarlett (whose girlfriends were shrieking in the audience), a woman playing the Barbara Windsor role who seemed to have a nice voice but ended up screeching too often and big dance numbers that were just too big for the size of the place and meant they bumped into each other. They must've rehearsed this, surely, so why did it still happen? Why did no-one notice? The people in front of us left at half time - I stayed because I wanted to see what happened next. It didn't get any better.

I can't blame the actors for the evening - they were given material and directed to act in a certain way - but I do blame the director and the Union Theatre. It seems to be making an art form out of being amateur and unprofessional and that's not a good look. I won't be going back any time soon if that's the quality of experience on offer. The Union Theatre seems to have lost it's twang....  (which is what the play is all about, oo-er matron).

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