views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Little Me
Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
17th August 2013


The ensemble of Little Me

Photography supplied by All Star Productions

We've said it before, and it remains true - out of everyone on the fringe circuit there is no one more reliable than Aaron Clingham, who never fails to blow us anyway. In this staging of Little Me, he's not the only one who succeeds at impressing us. The rest of the cast and crew come together to pull off an utterly superb five-star show.

With this being the first professional revival in almost 30 years - helmed by Brendan Matthew - Little Me isn't that well-known, but there are plenty of familiar influences on the piece, making it very easy to like. Enthusiastic writer Patrick Dennis (Ben Oliver) turns up at the rather swanky home of Belle Poitrine (Julie Ross) to set her life to paper. As Belle regales him with the stories of her youth, the audience are treated to flashbacks, with Belle's rather Liz Taylor-esque life played out on stage.

As a young woman, Belle Slumpfert (Emma Odell) lives with her Momma (Natalie Viccars) at Drifter's Row, on the Other Side of the Tracks. Belle has no wealth, culture or social position - which only bothers her when she falls in love with the rich, cultured, socially upright Noble Eggleston (Daniel Cane). Suddenly what is most important to Belle is to achieve these three tickboxes, to give her and Noble a shot at their own happy ending.

Admittedly, in opening number The Truth, we did struggle to hear older Belle. She enunciated perfectly, it was the volume that was too low. However, this resolved itself quickly in the following numbers, with the the whole ensemble - including Ross - singing beautifully and with power.

Neil Simon's book is very theatrical and typically extravagant, with a touch of Disney about it - yes, despite the string of lovers, would-be lovers and single parenthood. There's no subtlety about who the two key love interests are, who we're meant to root for, what challenges they will face - we have the beautiful Belle from the rough sounding Drifter's Row, and our hero Noble - in name and in nature - who is literally from the right side of the tracks. But rather than overly saccharine, it all feels rather knowing. What else do you expect from the writer of the now-iconic Odd Couple? Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's music and lyrics are all similarly twee, they have a lot of fun and are almost postmodern before that was a thing.

And when Bernie and Benny Buchsbaum (Katrina Dix and Alastair Knights) try to persuade Belle to Be a Performer and use her newly-gained notoriety to gain Vaudeville success, it's reminiscent of Roxie Hart's rise to fame in Chicago. As we said, a lot of influences. Ramona (Emily Apps) is played with a high-pitched shriek and sulky demeanour, much like Richmal Crompton's Violet Elizabeth Bott.

The ensemble of Little Me

Photography supplied by All Star Productions

The cast of twelve do a sterling job but, even so, there is one standout star and that's Cane. In keeping with Little Me's stage traditions, he plays most of the men in Belle's life - Noble, Mr Pinchley, Jean Val du Val, Fred Poitrine, Otto Schnitzler and Prince Cherney. It's an exhausting list, but he shows no sign of fatigue.

Whether Cane is confined to a wheelchair as Pinchley, or showing off Chris Whittaker's considered choreography as Val du Val tap-dancing, there's a magic to his performance, harking back to legends like Dick van Dyke (but thankfully without that accent). Cane represents a simply wonderful piece of casting. Boom Boom is one of our favourite numbers that Cane belts out.

As for the set, Stewart Charlesworth creates a partition wall made up of empty gilded frames, adding age and glamour. At the start of each scene, the ensemble fill some of the frames up with pictures of people and places that contextualises the sequence, a refreshing alternative to stage curtains or flats. And through these frames you can often glimpse the talented musicians at work.

The wonderfully talented Clingham leds the rest of the orchestra, made up of Adam Behrens on bass, Greg Sheffield on drums, Vitaliy Zhelikhovskyy on clarinet and Esther Carapeto Moreno on cello. There's very little to say about them, other than they deliver the flawless performance we've come to expect from any group of performers under Clingham's musical direction. This is all overseen to a T by director Matthew. It should be no surprise, given his history in musical theatre, that he gets the tone spot-on and allows the two-plus hours to zip along in a jolly old fashion.

It's not often that we gush about a show, but sometimes it's deserved. For the avoidance of doubt, this is one of those times. Go see Little Me, you'll regret not catching this in Ye Olde Rose and Crown when Clingham and company are performing in the West End at £75 a pop. That day will surely come soon.

Little Me ran from 13th to 31st August 2013 at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Walthamstow Centre (Victoria)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts