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Sweet Charity – Oh God

Look, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that we’re not going to look back on ‘Sweet Charity’ as a roaring success.

You think Theresa May’s got a job on her hands?

Spare a thought for the sound crew on The Donmar Warehouse’s new show, where someone has inexplicably cast Ann Marie-Duff as the terrible, terrible lead.

‘Cos it really is the equivalent of trying to shove a boulder up Kilimanjaro. Act 1 ends with the sound of someone falling down a hole that is trapped in an elevator that is portrayed using an overhead projector. I’m not making this up, the whole occasion grinds with jerking efficiency.

It works on paper.

Josie Rourke’s production, her final production as artistic director of the Donmar, is a mess.This is a perfect example of a good idea gone bad. It is all too jarring to work. Duff and Arthur Darvill star as Charity and Oscar in this revival of the 1966 Broadway hit. The run is sold out and you are probably gutted that you can’t get a ticket.

So I’ll help you out.

What stops Sweet Charity from being the most pointless exercise in The Donmar’s history, though, is the choreography by Wayne McGregor his ensemble of ten hip-thrusting Andy Warhols are fantastically eccentric; they are the new dancing fish people in dreadful 80’s musical Eugenius!

There are, though, moments when this collection of talent threaten to hit the mark, as the fine ensemble demonstrate. Namely Debbie Kurup, who is sizzling. Seriously.

Elsewhere Sweet Charity underwhelms, even if you accept that three of the Britain’s most interesting creatives (Rourke, Duff & McGregor) would always struggle to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It would be cruel to think of this as a complete vanity project – it’s intended to sell. However, at least vanity projects carry a sense of artists finding and needing space to spread their creative wings.

What a waste.

With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and a book by Neil Simon, this show starts off being far better than you might have expected, ends up being far worse than you could ever have feared. It is not even an improvement on the film. It is mind-numbingly dull and Duff is as erotic as a wet sock.

For it’s one thing assembling a set of tin foil and step ladders, plus a rotating cast of folk to play the role of Daddy Brubeck, featuring appearances from the brilliant Adrian LesterBeverley Knight, Clive Rowe and La Gateaux Chocolat. Impressive. But in the brutal and relentless process, Rourke has somehow turned this epic final send off into one of theatreland’s funniest musical non-events, and I just wish that it was intentional.

I am sorry to report that Duff cannot sing; she also lacks the vulnerability that this character requires and she looks embarrassed to be there. And the thing lasts nearly three hours. Mad.

If this production actually managed to deliver the entertainment, like a theatrical version of a cheap acid trip, you might forgive her complete lack of characterisation or the uncertainty of tone that leaves the evening awkwardly pitched between the bonkers and the kitsch.

Let’s never talk about it again.

N.B. Anyone aged 25 and under will be able to enter a ballot for free tickets to see the show on its Friday performances between April 19-May 31, with schools in London also invited to see the show for free, which is nice.

Sweet Charity runs until June 8