Alison Dodd's Blog

Review: Carnaby Street (Hackney Empire)

Posted on: Thursday 11 April 2013

I’ll admit right now that the sixties is not my favourite music decade (the 70s are – yes, I know I have terrible taste!) and the only reason I went to see this is because Hugo Harold-Harrison is in it.  I fell in love with H3 when he was in Priscilla – you couldn’t have failed to notice his very happy sailor in ♫ Go West ♫. I also saw him play Tick/Mitzi a few times and he was brilliant. As a result I’d pretty much go see him in anything just for a glimpse of that smile 😀

I had no expectations of Carnaby Street and I hadn’t heard very much about it since this was the first stop of the tour.  My stomach sank a little when the announcement before curtain up encouraged people to sing along if the mood took them – my pet peeve – but I was prepared to go with the flow.

The band are on stage throughout and occasionally down instruments and contribute a few lines of dialogue before resuming their musical duties – it’s all done very well.  There are also three girls who at various times play brass, sing and dance as part of the ensemble but I found this distracting since I kept trying to guess where they’d pop up next (was this a cost cutting measure?).  The songs came in quick succession with several originals mixed in with well known hits, and they were delivered very capably by the young cast.

The storyline is pretty flimsy – a young musician trying to make it in the Big Smoke – and it feels a little ‘musical-by-numbers’: young lovers (check!), an obstacle to love (check!), bad guy (check!), camp gay guy (check!), funny sidekick (check!).  I would venture to say though that most people that go to see this show don’t go for the story – judging by my fellow audience members, the music was the main attraction and they were having a great time.

I am not sure of the genesis of the piece – the show website doesn’t give many clues and, perhaps tellingly, there is no book writer listed – but I was a little offended by the inclusion of the stereotypical, token gay clothes’ shop owner Lily the Pink.  His sexuality added nothing to the character and seemed like another tick in the box in the musical theatre recipe the creators seem to be following.  The character was all limp wrists, bevels and exaggerated gestures and it seemed like deliberate direction rather than a choice of his portrayer, Paul Hazel.

All that said, stand out performances for me were Hugo Harold-Harrison playing (against type) Arnold, a slimy music producer (the baddie of the piece) and Aaron Sidwell as Jack (The Lad as he introduces himself).  They both lit up the stage when they came on and the audience were practically boo-ing and hissing at H(the desired reaction I’m sure).

The verdict: This production will probably do well on tour with its bevy of hits and carefree attitude but I don’t think we’ll remember it in a years’ time.  

** I had to miss the second half due to another commitment but I don’t feel the urge to go back and see what I missed hence I can’t describe it as unmissable! **

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