Time’s Up @ Shaftesbury Theatre, London

Story & Book
Ray Cooney

Keith Strachan

Mary Stewart-David

As soon as the doors to the auditorium opened, a very excited, very eager capacity audience forgot all about politeness and manners associated with theatre-watching, and leapt into the unknown.

There was a scramble for seats which could easily have been a scene from Carry On Acting (Woohoo, dahling, over heaarr, I’ve nabbed the front row), and as someone rightly pointed out, ‘this place hasn’t been as full as this in years’.

To be fair though, this was no ordinary performance: the beloved writer of farces Ray Cooney (Run For Your Wife!, It Runs in The Family, among others), had invited this audience of regular theatregoers to be the first to witness his new musical, Time’s Up.

As he introduced the musical to us, he prepared us for the worst, proclaiming that this wasn’t the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, there wasn’t a million-dollar production budget (but that hopefully there would be soon), and that the set resembled the one used for Bat Boy (which closed without much of a fanfare the night before).

Poor Mr Cooney, he needn’t have worried. The large, and rather outgoing audience (well, what do you expect for a 5 ticket with a free glass of wine) laughed, clapped and cheered throughout the performance, and by the looks of it had a rather good time. Not bad for a show which had only come together (lighting, sound and band) that afternoon.

In general there are two types of musicals: the epic (and often historical) three hour pageant of pomp and seriousness, and the fun, comic variety with toe-tapping tunes and an abundance of laughs.

Time’s Up belongs most definitely to the latter variety, and the story has a sweet and ultimately fulfilling message. Our hero, Steven Tancred, is a hot shot lawyer who lives in London, 2005, and works for a large company whose clients includes a shopping centre developer. A poor old lady has the unfortunate luck to be living in a lovely house right in the middle of the development, and she is somewhat hampering the efforts of the developer by enjoying the workmen’s company and offering them tea and sandwiches at every opportunity. The nasty developer wants her out, and it’s the job of our hero to do it.

He’s got problems, though: firstly, he’s on the side of the old lady, and secondly, he has the unfortunate habit of regressing to 1920’s gangster Chicago at the most inconvenient time. And all this because he’s trying to stop smoking to please his mean boss, who has the annoying position of being his future father-in-law.

Yes, this is vintage Ray Cooney, albeit less farce, more straightforward comedy. There’s still slapstick and mistaken identity, but the focus is on the story and the characters that inhabit it. Mary Stewart-David’s lyrics are lovely, and Keith Strachan’s music reflects perfectly different aspects and emotions of the story. The last song (Don’t Reach For The Moon) is especially effective.

The cast must be given a special mention: full of energy and vitality, they did a great job and it would have been impossible to guess that for a number of them this was their first professional production after leaving drama school.

The band did a fine job too despite their lack of rehearsal time, and even though I was forced to look at the sad remains of a once proud and gleaming Bat Boy set for two hours I remained captivated and in the comedy spirit throughout.

Time’s Up isn’t historical, nor is it epic, but it is great fun: think Mamma Mia! or Thoroughly Modern Milly.

A West End run is planned, and let’s hope it succeeds. In the meantime, Time’s Up gets the big Thumbs Up.

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