Review: All The Fun Of The Fair – Cliffs Pavilion, Southend On Sea

There’s something nostalgic about seaside funfairs, you know what’s coming, it may be a bit of a bumpy ride along the way and its never going to compete with the brasher theme parks. In many ways the same can be said regarding All The Fun Of The Fair, resuming a national tour after a run last year in the West End. The script may be as creaky in places as a traditional wooden roller coaster, the singing at times more reminiscent of a fairground barker than pure musical theatre and the sentiment as sickly sweet as candyfloss but it does have an nostalgic charm about it.

Life for travelling fairground owner Levi Lee isn’t easy. His wife was killed in the fairs trademark Wall of Death stunt, distracted by Levi’s affair with fortune teller Rosa. His son risks losing everything at the hands of the local mob while his adopted son has enough issues for the whole cast.

In all honesty the script is little more than a vehicle on which to hang a collection of songs from Essex’s album of the same name. The songs are integrated into the plot and there are a couple of touching moments but for a large sector of the audience it is the opportunity to hear Essex sing that attracts them.

Though the fan-base would never admit it, Essex’s vocals haven’t aged well and the resulting sound is often strained, though in the context of the piece this rough around the edges approach actually works. The rest of the company are equally varied in vocal ability. Rob Compton as Levi’s wayward son Jack seems oddly underpowered and lacking the rough magnetism that the role needs, while Tanya Robb’s Alice sings sweetly enough but lacks any real chemistry with Compton.

More successful is Louise English as fortune teller and narrator Rosa, especially moving in a haunting lamenting rendition of Winters Tale. Outstanding performance of the evening however, belongs to Tim Newman as simpleton orphan Johnny, a trembling bag of nerves but with an infectious desire to belong. It’s a wonderful observed performance matched with an impressive vocal range.

Alongside the aforementioned Winters Tale, fans will enjoy the inclusion of hits such as Hold Me Close, Gonna Make You A Star and Here We Are All Together. Those waiting for Silver Dream Machine won’t be left disappointed with a staging coup that provides a stunning visual climax to the show.

Nikolai Foster directs with simplicity making good use of Ian Westbrook’s colourful designs, complete with working dodgem cars and enough fairground lights to illuminate Blackpool. It is disappointing however that the musical accompaniment is pre recorded, and at times the sound balance does resemble more of a karaoke performance rather than a stage musical.

It’s a fun evening that is never going to really tax the brain, and for fans the plot and staging are secondary to the music but much like many now faded seaside attractions, there’s an air of missed potential here. It’s a rollercoaster ride but on a track that’s a few twists short of a real thrill ride.

Review originally published on The Public Reviews

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