Monday, 14 March 2016

Review: Miss Atomic Bomb, St James

“That's just the fallout people”

Atomic bombs derive their destructive power from nuclear fission, when atoms split after being bombarded with other particles, and there’s a certain sense of random elements being thrown together in Miss Atomic Bomb, in the hope of reaching some kind of critical mass. Comedy gangsters, tap-dancing routines, comedy bank managers, dead sheep, comedy zucchini, pigs in clothes, comedy transvestites, hoedowns, comedy rabbi costumes, a Strallen and a character with a ridiculous surname because you can get a song out of it. Put them altogether and what do you get? A show that’s either a bomb or a blast.

Full disclosure, I saw a preview and I’m given to believe that a lot of work has happened to the show in the last couple of days, which is only natural for a new musical. For me though, the show feels fundamentally flawed in really not knowing what it wants to be. Writers Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long throw together satire and slapstick uneasily as a desperate Las Vegas hotel manager arranges the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant to drum up tourist trade as the US military test their atomic arsenal in the Nevada desert.

But it’s serious because the nuclear fallout is killing the livestock in the area. But it’s funny because farmgirl Candy can just win the pageant to get enough money to head over to California instead. But it’s serious because the hotel manager’s brother has deserted the army in protest at what they’re doing. But it’s funny because he’s got a courgette and a kippah to get away with it. Long co-directs with Bill Deamer, who also choreographs far too many inessential routines, but rarely does any sense of dramatic or musical purpose really emerge. The point at which Les Mis pastiches appear scrapes the barrel hard - you gotta get a gimmick but you gotta get your own.

Frustratingly, the music actually improves in the second act but that only serves to heighten the dichotomy between score and book. Simon Lipkin and forthcoming Aladdin Dean John-Wilson share a gorgeously tender duet of brotherly love in ‘I’ll Stand With You’ but it bears no resemblance to the fraternal relationship as played out throughout the entire play. And for all the prettiness of the country and western-tinged songs that Candy gets to sing, Florence Andrews really shining here, they have no organic place in the story as it tears around the Vegas strip. 

The less said about Catherine Tate's wavering accent and mugging tendencies as Candy's friend Myrna Ranapapadophilou the better. So too the indignities that Daniel Boys has to suffer as an inexplicably crazed bank manager. That said, the audience seemed to love it, me and my sometime companion aside, and a couple of Twitter pals have declared they're fans so who knows what the critical and commercial fallout will be on this one. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Booking until 9th April

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