REVIEW: THE PLEASURE GARDENS (Above The Stag Theatre)

Glenn Chandler and Charles Miller (Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story and The Sins of Jack Saul) return to Above The Stag Theatre in Vauxhall with their new musical ‘The Pleasure Gardens’.

The show begins in the present day, on a construction site, where the pleasure gardens in Vauxhall once thrived. We are then transported back to the 1850s, where the Crimean War was just beginning and men were expected to go off and fight whilst the women stayed at home. But deep down within the gardens, people are free to let their inhibitions run wild, where boys can love boys, boys can be girls and married men and women can freely play around.

Gardener Tom falls for a young poet who leaves him letters and gifts hidden within the gardens. As their love begins to blossom, creepy old Lord Lovelock makes Tom an offer he can’t refuse – to come and live in his big house and look after all the gardens there. It is obvious that there is more expected than just pruning his bushes and Lady Lovelock is happy to turn a blind eye to his shenanigans for she too has a few people she has her eye on.

The cast are good. Sam Baumal (Tom) and Jay Worley (Ralph) are wonderful as the young lovers, oozing pure innocence. They have lovely singing voices and look eerily like Elijah Wood and Jack Branning. The use of a video wall at the back of the stage is used well to help enhance the set, especially during the hot air balloon ride scene where Captin Antrobus (Jennie Jacobs) tries to seduce Princess Saura (Bea Amora Wong) in an entertaining moment. Lord and Lady Lovelock (Rory-Charlie Campbell and Ashleigh Harvey) are nicely written characters and Steve Watts (Hermit) is probably the best thing in the show as the old man, living in the gardens.

The whole show was just a little too surreal for me, especially in act two with the song and dance number ‘I’m Doctor Watt’ which felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, whilst watching some very interesting choreography.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and sadly this one just wasn’t for me.

★★

Reviewed by West End Wilma