As far as I’m aware the former Top Gear presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, have never written a musical. However, if they had, I’d lay money on it being the spitting image of Doodle – The Musical which is currently playing at the rather chilly but always welcoming Waterloo East Theatre.
The show, set against the backdrop of World War II, has everything the three could want. Plucky, tea-drinking Brits. Nasty Nazi’s. Casual period misogyny and homophobia…
However, I think it’s important to get one thing clear from the start. This is a work in progress, rather than a finished show, so I intend to judge it as such. It’s crying out for re-writes, and I hope they happen.
Waterloo East seats about a hundred, and the show’s cast of ten, plus two dancers, play between them thirty-five parts on the tiny stage, with hardly anything by way of set, except the odd box or chair, and a few filing cabinets. However, projections onto a strategically placed screen on the back wall fill in the gaps, acting not only as a way of transporting us to rural France, next to a domestic garden shed, or the inside of a gentleman’s lavatory, but also functioning like a cinema screen to give us very professionally produced and entertaining credits which top and tail the show.
It’s 1940 and, in order to steal a march on the allies, the Nazi’s capture Barnes Wallace – who in 1943 would successfully invent the bouncing bomb – to help them invent ‘Doodle’, a bouncing submarine. The man responsible for getting Barnes Wallace back hates him, so decides to send the worst of all possible rescue squads in the hope that they’ll fail.
Both book and lyrics are the work of Jonathan Kydd, and where they work, they work well, though the humour is patchy stylistically. I was put in mind at various times of The Goon Show, Russ Abbots Madhouse, and Mel Brookes’, The Producers. Sadly for all concerned the bit of The Producers I was put in mind of was Springtime for Hitler, and not in a good way. The show gives the impression in several places of having been written as a wheeze by a group of friends over several pints of bitter at the local Dog and Duck.
There’s too much unnecessary swearing (though I actually quite liked the song sung by the German’s trying to persuade Barnes Wallace that they were in fact British, ‘Cockney Vankers’) and the scatological references throughout, but especially in the French restaurateur’s song in Act Two, need to be excised completely. Ditto the references to ‘poofters’, ‘lesbians’, and ‘dykes’. It’s 2018 not 1972.
Kydd show’s elsewhere that he’s capable of writing very accomplished lyrics, for example in the song ‘Someone who is Someone’. However, he rather spoils it as an ‘I Want’ song by giving it to the wrong character. This isn’t a story about Filbert Tweed wanting to find ‘Someone who is Someone’ to rescue Barnes Wallace. The character with an emotional journey is his secretary who wants to show that she is ‘Someone who is Someone’ in a very male-dominated world. That’s the reason that act two seems to drag so. We don’t actually care about Filbert-Tweed, but we do care about her.
Andy Street’s score is accomplished and eclectic to the point of being post-modern. As well as ‘musical theatre’ music there are certainly ‘homages’ to popular songs of the 40’s, Disco, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and German electronic band Kraftwerk. All very clever, but occasionally at the expense of being appropriate.
Oh, and one last thought. Is this actually a theatre show, or a film?
- Director: Jonathan Moore
- Book & Lyrics: Jonathan Kidd
- Music: Andy Street
- Cast includes: Paul Ryan, Suzanna Kempner, Paul Croft, Reggie Oliver, Paul Storrier, Michael Sadler, Even Boutsov, Sebastian Kainth, Conor Cook, Luke Farrugia
- Waterloo East Theatre, London
- Until 28th January 2018