Birds of Paradise continues at the Drayton Arms Theatre, London until 20 May.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
It’s always refreshing to review at a venue you haven’t been to before, and just in case any visitors were unsure that this rather plush gastro pub was indeed home to MKEC Productions’ latest show, there was perhaps a subtle clue placed on the bar – a large vase of Birds of Paradise flowers.
With music by David Evans and lyrics from Winnie Holzman (Wicked), this musical comedy based on the book by Evans and Holzman intrigues and entertains at times, but also baffles and frustrates in equal measures.
Luckily, it boasts a really spirited cast, which despite performing to only half a house on Saturday evening, kept focused, musically tight and bubbly throughout.
A real plus here are the impressive harmonies, and, not least, a standout number, ‘Imagining You’, which gets a few welcome reprises without becoming too repetitive.
Then there’s Dave, played superbly by Stuart Scott, and a character who makes Mr Bean look like David Beckham.
A socially awkward misfit and fashion victim who sports dreadful jumpers, he’s also got some great lines. “When I’m by myself, I’m another person,” he says.
He cuts a sad and quite touching figure, especially once his original beloved script is cast cruelly aside in favour for another, going from director hero to zero.
In its place, the spirited group of amateur players, after the creative intervention of alleged star Lawrence Wood (Ashley Knight), choose to perform ‘Sea Gull’, a Chekhov musical. The latter has been penned by aspiring artist Homer (James Kenneth Haughan), giving an impressive archetypal portrayal of a full-on, all smiles, high-energy wannabe.
In Act II there’s a ludicrous but pretty funny musical number with cast members dressed as penguins, alongside some bitter sweet, romantic liaisons and plenty of acrimonious artistic falling outs.
All that, in theory, should be more enough to keep you gripped, but the script is, at times, far too wordy, the plot a little pedestrian, and like the aforementioned penguins in real life, this feels like it’s skating along on creative thin ice.
As a musical comedy, the music mostly delights while the comedy is patchily entertaining. As for the storyline though, certainly for the second half, it is a case of paradise lost.