REVIEW: CILLA (Wycombe Swan) ★★★

As the curtain goes up at the start of the show, we hear the dulcet tones of Bill Kenwright reminding us that mobile phones were not around in the 1960s. Kenwright is a theatre producer extraordinaire and professional Liverpudlian: a die-hard Everton fan – he is chairman of the football club. One can only assume that this must have been an absolute labour of love for him.

The show is produced by Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield who was Cilla Black’s agent at the time of her death. It is written by Jeff Pope who wrote the TV show of the same name and this is really just a condensed version of that show, focusing on Cilla’s early life, her musical career and the start of her move into TV and light entertainment

Despite the show being called Cilla and having quite a range of songs to choose from, there is almost as much non-Cilla material in the show with performances from a range of the “Mersey Beat” groups and it is actually left to “The Beatles“ to really get the crowd going as the show closes. With the extensive discography that Cilla had I would have expected a greater range of her songs to be used, not just the handful of well-known hits.

I was surprised that I found the show to be a little boring. Cilla’s rise from living above a barber shop to becoming a number 1 recording star who was internationally known should fizz and spark but it is presented without any real drama. The epic love story of Cilla and Bobby lacks romantic tension and feels flat and pedestrian.

There is some drama with the hint of the friction between Brian Epstein and John Lennon which leads to a great performance of “You’ve got to hide your love away” but it feels like the scene has been crowbarred in to allow Michael Hawkins, as Lennon, a solo.

Kara Lily Hayworth is excellent as Cilla and this is a solid production with a group of talented actors and musicians and ultimately, I believe the show gives its target audience just what they want. However, I am not convinced there is enough in the show to appeal to a wider audience. It would have been more interesting if this had been a true musical using Cilla’s songs to move the narrative forward rather than simply seeing them during a performance or a recording.

Reviewed by Emma Heath


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