Absolutely anything can be a musical in London, thus while undoubtedly curious, it is not a real surprise to see a musical based on a Daily Mirror comic strip being revived at the Finborough Theatre. “Andy Capp The Musical” first premiered thirty years ago, when it was nominated for two Olivier Awards, and is now brought back to life for the cartoon’s 60 year anniversary. In its peak, the iconic Andy Capp, drawn by Reg Smythe, had an audience of 250 million people in 52 countries, so who could deny it a stage? To make this affair even more eclectic, music, book and lyrics are written by The Animals’ Alan Price and a well-known BBC sitcom actor, Trevor Peacock.
The tight-knit Northern working class community of Napier Street residents and regular Rose & Crown Bar goers is thrilled about the upcoming wedding of young Elvis Horsepole and Raquel Scrimmett. At the centre of the commotion stands unemployed bum Andy Capp – mostly because he is always, without fail, at the pub. Andy’s wife Flo is increasingly getting fed up with her husband’s demeaning behaviour and drinking habits and threatens to leave. But Andy is little concerned with that – within his top three interests drinking, racing pigeons and football, Flo comes fourth.
The musical is charming without a doubt, but elongating singular comic strips into a full-blown plot comes at a price. Stereotypes and sexism seem enhanced; in a newspaper, cruder jokes work better as they need to be to the point and punchy. It stands in line, however, with Andy Capp’s iconic comic sexism and ‘low character’ that he, as his musical motif suggests, really ought to be ashamed of. And he really ought to be – there is little lovable about him, as he is not even particularly loyal or nice to his friends, nor so cynically funny to excuse his bad habits. In a way, it makes one wonder why there had to be a musical about him at all – nevertheless, I am glad there is.
The music is upbeat and catchy, and the quality of the tracks and singing certainly belong into the West End. The lyrics are entertaining and poignant. The cast does well in portraying the chemistry between the colourful Daily Mirror characters, and Tori Hargreaves’ voice shines solo as well as in bigger ensemble numbers.
The musical is possibly a bit like a comic strip itself – its impact feels short-lived but it will make you smile – and it’s always good to see an original British Musical.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Andy Capp the Musical is playing at The Finborough Theatre until 23 February 2016