Bye Bye Birdie Review

Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, Walthamstow  – 11 August – 4 September. Reviewed by Claire Roderick

I arrived at this fantastic venue full of excitement about a revival of a show that was new to me. My mood was enhanced by the prices at the bar – no need to take out a loan to buy a round this far from the West End! The theatre is above the pub, and after the audience and the band took their places the performing area is about the size of my grandmother’s front room. Intimate – I was going to enjoy this.

Then the show started, and halfway through the first number my heart sunk. I suddenly realised that I HAD watched this musical before – the 1990s TV version – and I may have begun to twitch a little remembering the horror.

But this didn’t last for long. Tonight I saw how the show SHOULD be performed, and would like to thank All Star Productions and the cast for curing me of my Birdiephobia. The NHS should issue tickets on prescription to any other victims forced to sit through that dreaded DVD.

The plot centres around Rosie, in love with hopeless mama’s boy Albert and their plan to make enough money to leave the music industry by staging a farewell kiss between their recently drafted rock star client, Conrad Birdie, and a fan before he leaves for his army training. The lucky girl is Kim from Sweet Apple, Ohio, but she’s just been pinned by Hugo. Things are complicated further by Albert’s domineering mother, Kim’s family and a horde of teenage fangirls. In 1960 the satire was sharper than today, in our age of social media and self promotion, but the laughs are still big and the Ed Sullivan show section, when even the adults get star struck, is wonderful.

Liberty Buckland’s Rose is full of contradictions – strong and feisty, but oh so weak when it comes to Albert. Buckland has a belter of a voice and a huge future. Ryan Forde Iosco has the difficult job of making Albert likeable. In other hands (the unmentionable DVD) Albert can be a whiny little loser, but Iosco has the right balance of hangdog looks and frustration that keep you rooting for him. He doesn’t overplay the comedy and the audience erupted when Albert takes control of his life. His voice isn’t the strongest, but he conveys the emotion expertly.

Abigail Matthews as Kim is sweet and funny, with a delightfully pure voice. Conrad Birdie (Zac Hamilton) just has to look hot until near the end of the first act, when we finally get to see what all the fuss is about. Great voice and great hips! The best lines of the show go to Jayne Ashley as Mae Patterson – using pet names as a weapon – and Harry Hart as Harry MacAfee – his reactions to Kim’s escapades are hysterical; like a cross between Lou Costello and the Incredible Hulk.

The whole cast work together to create a fantastic 50s world of frothy silliness, but the fangirls steal the show with their shrill hysteria and lovely harmonies.

Strouse and Adams’ songs are jolly rather than memorable, the exceptions being “Put on a happy face” and “Kids”, but this production does great things with the material. Special mention to choreographer Anthony Whiteman for creating such frenetic routines in so tiny a space, although I was glad I wasn’t sitting in the front row at times.

This is a fantastic production and a fun family night out.