Pure Imagination

Reviewer's Rating

You can’t have missed adverts for it on the tube, with its great graphic of a spiral of song titles swirling off into the centre of the poster.

Pure Imagination, the revue comprising 51 songs by Leslie Bricusse which has just opened at The St James in Victoria has (finally) arrived.

There are plenty of revues put together with the songs of composers, and composer lyricists. Side By Side By Sondheim and Jerry’s Girls – showcasing the songs of Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman respectively – spring immediately to mind, and have both played in London to appreciative audiences within the past year.

The show, or at least the concept of it, has been around for a while having originally been announced to the US publication Playbill back in 2005 where it was then called Brick By Brick By Bricusse. As it lands in Victoria, it has a cast of five and a band of six, and is billed as a ‘world premiere’ so we must assume that more than the title has been changed in the intervening ten years, but I have to admit that for me it doesn’t quite have that extra additional creative spark that has made the two pieces name-checked in the second paragraph such successful shows.

Director Christopher Renshaw who, along with Danielle Tarento and Bricusse himself, is listed as devisor of the show uses the conceit of hanging the songs very loosely on the singers he has to try to give us the story of two couples – and a spare ‘everyman’ – listed in the programme as The Man (Dave Willetts), The Woman (Siobhan McCarthy), The Boy (Niall Sheehy), The Girl (Julie Atherton), and The Joker (Giles Terrera).

Whilst their performances are uniformly wonderful – the undoubted highlight of the show for me being Giles Terera’s masterfully open and honest performance of ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I?’ towards the end of the second half – the attempt to create a narrative, no matter how intangible, from a range of 51 disparate and unconnected songs didn’t engage me to any great extent and left me with more questions than it answered.

In choosing to put the spotlight on the music (most of which Bricusse didn’t write) and give us no biographical information, theatrical anecdotes, or background to how any of the songs came to be written, all we have here is collection of songs. Nicely arranged, well choreographed and beautifully performed songs, but songs nonetheless.

This shouldn’t be a show about other people’s music, and five un-named characters. This should be a celebration of Leslie Bricusse, one of the most accessible, talented, and singable lyricists of the modern era.

Bricusse published his first autobiography in 2006, and has just given the world what he calls ‘a sorta-biography’ with the same title as the show, Pure Imagination.

I haven’t read either book but given that Bricusse had a hand in songs ranging from ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’, through at least three James Bond songs (including the best one ever, ‘Goldfinger’, with Anthony Newley and John Barry) and wrote, again with Anthony Newley, the songs for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, one of whose songs not only provides the title of this revue, but is also to be heard nightly at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane providing the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre score in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there simply MUST be stories to tell. Let us hear them.

This charming little show could be a barnstormer if you cut some of the songs and told the theatre-going public some plum stories from the life of this extraordinary man, now in his eighties. Please, hire a bookwriter and take it to the next level.