Blink Twice! @ Above the Stag, London

cast list
Anna Gilthorpe, Ashleigh Jones, Adam Lilley, Emma Lumsden and Reed Sinclair

directed by
Tim McArthur

Director/performer Tim McArthur seems to be carving somewhat of a niche in the world of neglected showtunes. Following on from Coloured Lights (lesser-known Kander & Ebb songs) and Hidden Treasures (Sondheim) – both at the Jermyn Street Theatre – he now tackles less familiar works from such musical luminaries as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jerry Herman and… um, the people who wrote Bad Girls – The Musical.

Following on from the success of last year’s overly punctuated Blink! And you missed it!, Above the Stag’s Blink Twice! mines the musicals that closed early for treasures that the viewing public might have missed, with doomed shows including the ill-advised Dear World (about drilling for oil in Paris) and the football-as-a-metaphor-for-life Ben Elton ‘classic’ The Beautiful Game.
The show proves there is no subject off limits when it comes to writing musicals, be it Aids (Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens), giant whales (Moby Dick), fusty British detectives (Sherlock Holmes) or, erm, glitter-booted intergalactic amazons (Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens).

As such, Blink Twice! is an odd mix of hidden gems buried in otherwise duff shows and genuinely terrible songs, a mere snatch of which is enough to assure you that the failure of the musical it came from was a deserved fate. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk and generally the show manages it, with a knowing script and a tongue-in-cheek approach to those songs that require it, while not stinting on sincerity for the numbers that deserve real emotion.

The compact ATS theatre is an ideal place for musicals, with the proximity to the performers giving the show a real immediacy and intimacy. Under Tim McArthur’s sprightly direction (ably supported by pianist and musical director David Harvey), the five-strong cast rattle through the numbers with energy and charm. Highlights include the company renditions of The Witches of Eastwick‘s Dirty Laundry and the Kander & Ebb number, It’s a Business (from Curtains), while Ashleigh Jones and Reed Sinclair’s knowingly cheesy song-and-dance routine for the staggeringly bad My First Lady (from Bad Girls) is a delight. Use What You’ve Got (from The Life) is also a joy, slickly performed by Jones, Sinclair, Anna Gilthorpe and Emma Lumsden.

Despite being lumbered with remarkably unflattering frocks, the girls actually fare slightly better when it comes to the pick of the numbers than the boys; Sleeping on Our Own in particular is a standout. Major props must go to Adam Lilley, though, for his deadpan drag in Take It All Off, from the Jerry Herman review, Jerry’s Girls.

Fi Russell’s set (basically, tinsel curtains hiding the wings) is perhaps too bare – the combo of this and the girls’ awful dresses made things at times seem unnecessarily drab – but this is a small quibble in a show that, while not outstanding, is clearly having so much fun it would take a hard-hearted audience not to be swept along for the ride.

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