BRIGHT, bold and brassy, this new production of Clarke Peters’ award-winning Five Guys Named Moe bounces into the Spiegeltent, Festival Square, with all the energy of a CBeebies panto and has the audience participation to match.
Spiegeltent, Festival Square
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Featuring the hits of jazz legend Louis Jordan, Five Guys Named Moe premiered at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1990 before transferring to the West End, where it won the Olivier Award for Best Entertainment.
It’s the story of Nomax. Newly single and broke, he finds solace in beer and his love of music until, out of nowhere, Five Guys Named Moe (there’s Big Moe, Four-Eyed Moe, Eat Moe, No Moe and Little Moe) emerge to rouse him from his misfortunes with a series of uplifting soul, blues, gospel and early r‘n’b hits.
The all singing and dancing quintet boast an infectious spirit that is ever evident in director Paulette Randall’s high-energy, but messy production.
The staging doesn’t help. Spilt in two by a circular revolving catwalk, audience members are either seated cabaret-style in The Bullseye, or in The Outer Circle where illuminated pillars obscure the view of much of the action that spills into the audience.
Obscured sight-lines, it’s a rookie mistake.
The actions opens with Nomax, beer in hand, singing along to the blues blasting from his radio.
Played with a nice air of melancholy by Matt Mills, Nomax drives what narrative there is in a tale told with light strokes.
Blessed with a wonderfully textured voice, Mills is one of two stand out performances.
The other, a charismaticly hyper-active Jacob Maynard as No Moe, uses his expressive physicality and impressive dance skills to ensure the energy lifts higher still whenever the spotlight hits him.
Another big voice is that of Cameron Johnson, whose Big Moe has some nice comic touches.
However, adept as they are, this young cast never quite capture the gravitas required to explore the depth of the piece.
Instead, through the use of primary colours, oversized props and exquisite lighting - kudos to Philip Gladwell - there’s a cartoon-like quality to these creations.
There’s also a massive dose of panto, starting with a running joke - I won’t spoil it.
In the equivalent of a songsheet, lyric cards are dispensed for a sing along to the catchy calypso Push Ka Pi Shi Pie, which culminates in a singing competition and a mass conga to the bar for the interval.
The second act is very much about the music. Transported to The Funky Butt Club, any pretence of musical theatre is dispensed in favour of good old-fashioned cabaret... and more audience participation.
It doesn’t quite gel, but while this production might not know what it wants to be, the passion invested by the young cast ensure it’s a light and frothy evening of festive fun.
Run ends 7 January 2017