Bugsy Malone, Review | Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Alan Parker’s infamous and splurgetastic musical is taken on by Royal & Derngate’s Youth Theatre and Youth Company groups on the Royal stage.

Bugsy Malone, for those unfamiliar with the 1976 film starring a young Jodie Foster and Bonnie Langford, is a spoof gangster story set around the Prohibition era in Chicago, where the bullets have been replaced with “splurge guns” and all the “hoodlums” are barely out of short trousers. Filled with musical numbers that anyone who had anything to do with theatre at school will struggle to remove from their brains, like “Bad Guys” and “Fat Sam’s Grand Slam“, Bugsy Malone is a staple for youth theatre companies.

With a large cast of talented and enthusiastic young people aged up to 21, Bugsy Malone was a great deal of fun. The members of Dandy Dan (Libby Moore)’s gang (Reuben Baines, Chizara William-Gauntlett, Curtis Stone and a really superb Troy Anderson) were having a ball throwing cream pies around, and covering their enemies in Splurge, while Fat Sam (William Phillips)’s gang (Kara-Mae White as Knuckles, Erin O’Callaghan, Leah Bartoli and Rhiannon Barnby) end up on the wrong side of the splurge guns.

Bugsy himself was in the capable hands of Owen Howard, who commanded the stage, and seemed every bit the “lovable rogue”. Emily Abraham (Blousey Brown) has a beautiful singing voice; her rendition of Ordinary Fool was stunning, and wonderfully complemented by Emily Greaves and Oliver Phillips‘ dancing. Robyn Wilson captured the diva Tallulah perfectly, with outstanding vocals during Act 2’s opening number, “My Name Is Tallulah“.

Despite a little bit of clunky blocking from time to time, Bugsy Malone was otherwise nicely directed – “Down and Out” was a truly dynamic number, simple but very effective, and one of the more memorable moments (even if it’s one of the less memorable songs.) The second half seemed slicker and certainly had more pace and energy, and some of the sound level issues from the first act appeared to have been ironed out.

The set, as you would expect from Royal & Derngate, is nothing short of professional – with a particularly fine rotating bookcase, and cleverly thought out items descending from the ceiling including, at one point, a swing! Getting a car chase on a stage, especially one as small as the Royal, is always going to be a mammoth task, but it was funny and genuinely lovely to watch. At times, the set proved a challenge, but the cast handled any issues with a degree of professionalism I’m sure many more experienced performers would wish for!

Bugsy Malone Bonnie Company – photo by Graeme Braidwood

I must admit to not being a fan of Bugsy Malone itself – as a musical it has only a handful of good songs and a rather silly premise and is often done “on the cheap”. This cast from the Royal & Derngate’s Youth Theatre and Youth Company adds a nice sparkle, however, and in places, a level humour I’ve not seen in this show before. William Phillip‘s Fat Sam was brilliant – his comic timing was perfect, and he really captured the essence of a man on the edge, and Owen Howard‘s amusing nod to the President of the United States went down very well indeed.

The whole cast appeared to be having enormous fun, and that’s what youth theatre is all about after all.

Now all together:  “We could have been anything that we wanted to be…

Bugsy Malone runs at Royal & Derngate until Sun 15 July. The show has two companies – Bonnie and Clyde – who are performing on alternate performances throughout the run. Tickets are from £9, and available from www.royalandderngate.co.uk or by calling the Box Office on 01604 624811

Performance: Tues 10 July 2018 – Bonnie Company, Royal Theatre, Northampton