Theatre Review: Bugsy Malone at the Orchard Theatre

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For two weeks every summer, the Orchard Theatre is abuzz with the voices of young performers acting, singing and dancing. It’s the culmination of the year long Summer Youth Project overseen by the creative team, which offers youngsters the opportunity to participate in a professionally produced show at the prestigious theatre.

This year, the chosen show is Bugsy Malone and the energy is felt the moment you enter the main doors. As you’d expect with a community youth project, the audience contains many family and friends; the atmosphere is electric.

Bugsy Malone is the musical sensation from 1976, which featured Jodie Foster in her breakthrough year. Its unique selling point, the casting of an all child cast to play adults. Bizarrely, this was a lot less strange than adults playing high school kids in those other iconic film musicals, Grease and Footloose. As a child at the time, I doubt I gave thought to Tallulah’s seduction techniques, or the prevalent death and revenge theme: I just wanted a splurge gun.

Set against the backdrop of the Prohibition era, and the rivalries of Al Capone and his peers, Bugsy Malone tells the story of Fat Sam and his Speakeasy versus Dandy Dan and his empire. Amidst the splurging, Bugsy pursues feisty singer Blousey Brown – but will they survive the turf war raging around them?

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Brilliantly inclusive, it was lovely to see so many young people – boys and girls – embrace this art form. It seems like a cast of thousands, as the show stopping numbers have the ensemble inhabit every part of the theatre – the dancers doing their thing on the aisle steps were particularly impressive – kudos to choreographer Richard Peakman for sterling logistic work: I think even a staff sergeant would have baulked at organising those numbers into a cohesive unit.

This is a charming family show, with wonderful performances – Fizzy, Bugsy, and the double act of Fat Sam and Knuckles earning specially big cheers. The finale is unexpectedly moving, a medley of those famous songs accompanying the familial pride pervading the theatre.

You’ve still time to experience it yourself – tonight (Friday), or tomorrow. Visit www.orchardtheatre.co.uk or call 01322 220000 to nab your tickets.

Getting there: The Orchard Theatre is located right next door to Dartford Rail Station, two minutes walk across the bridge. For drivers, parking at the station car park costs just £1.50 for the evening after 6pm.