REVIEW: PRIVATES ON PARADE (Union Theatre) ★★★★
Privates on Parade follows the camp exploits of the fictitious Song and Dance Unit South East Asia (SADUSEA): a British military entertainment corps based in the Malay Peninsula. Lead by the fabulous Captain Terri Dennis, a leading man of Kenneth Williams-style campery and Wildean wit, the small ensemble of twirlies are charged with entertaining the troops ‘over there’ in Singapore and Malaysia.
The piece begins with the arrival of a new addition to the troupe: Sgt. Steven Flowers (played by Samuel Curry, who captures the character’s naivety well), an intelligence officer from Swindon who quickly gets the hang of the company’s unique personalities.
The play follows the antics of the corps both on and off stage as we enjoy their rehearsals and performances and their eventual inclusion in some real life armed combat: something this bunch of misfit are most definitely not cut out for.
The design, by Mike Lees, is simple but effective and works well with Ben Simpson’s lighting design, effectively evoking the hot and muggy environs of the Malay peninsula. The cast are consistently strong, with excellent characterisation throughout. Particularly impressive were Paul Sloss as the thick but adorable Brummie Len Bonney and Matt Beverage as the malignant Reg Drummond – an actor adept at making the skin crawl. Lone female cast member Martha Pothen really impresses with her vulnerability and perfect Anglo-Indian accent. Naturally, the star of the show (with top billing, no less) is Simon Green who plays the inexhaustibly camp Terri with aplomb.
The show is chock-full of songs, many of them pastiches of famous artists; Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich to name a few. These are humorous and effective but otherwise, the music by Dennis King keeps the story going without really containing any massively memorable tunes. Kirk Jameson’s direction is fluid, with moments of light, shade and pause for reflection from the audience. The humorous moments (which are many) were also played well. The production would have benefited from the talents of a choreographer, however, as some of the musical staging is a little laboured.
This is a rare opportunity to see this classic piece of British musical theatre: catch it whilst you can.
Reviewed by Jody Tranter