Sweet Charity

A heart-pounding, foot-tapping ode to Broadway musicals which sees Anne-Marie Duff steal the show as the titular heroine. Laurence Green reviews.

Anne-Marie Duff

A stylish swansong is provided by outgoing Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke after a  seven-year reign, with her final production Sweet Charity, which captures the razzle-dazzle of classic Broadway musicals.

The Place is New York, the year 1967. Charity Hope Valentine is a lovelorn dance hall hostess who "runs her heart like a hotel–you've got men checking in and out all the time" and who dreams of making a better life for herself. At the end of a long line of users and losers, she meets Oscar, a Mild mannered tax accountant, and Charity Hope Valentine once again puts her faith in love.

Based on a book by Neil Simon and with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, this 1966 musical doesn't feel dated at all, although some elements of this try hard production try too hard. The show goes in for some novel touches, opening with Charity being pushed into a lake which is represented by a fabulous ball pool, contained in a cylinder as tall as the circle–I would rather have seen an actual pool with water which would have made it that more realistic. Elsewhere Robert Jones's ebullient design has much fun with neon colours and fluorescent lights, while an overhead projector is used to create the effect of an elevator in motion, and the Fandango Ballroom is recreated with a bunch of metal step-ladders which tend to get moved about a lot.

Wayne McGregor's choreography is sassy and inventive and a swanky nightclub is revealed to be full of Andy Warhol lookalikes in blond wigs and black jumpers, reinforced by the large Warhol style portraits in the background.

But the evening belongs to Anne-Marie Duff, making her musical theatrical debut in a silver mini-dress and fishnets. Duff has great stage presence and brings raw emotional depth to the role, balancing her character's larger-than-life personality with her vulnerability beautifully. It's impossible not to smile at the evident pleasure she is having when she dons a top hat for showstopper If My Friends Could See Me Now. Indeed this Charity is a living and breathing flawed human being, not a two-dimensional jazz-hands shadow of a character. Arthur Darvill is suitably buttoned-ip as her latest paramour Oscar. The two leads are supported by a hard working ensemble cast. Lizzy Connolly and Debbie Kurup play Charity's best friends, dazzling during the numbers There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This and Bobby Dream Your Dream. They are joined by Lauren Drew, Jo-Eaton Kent, Charlotte Jaconelli, Amy Ellen Richardson and Danielle Steers for a killer performance of the musical's most iconic number Big Spender.

After the interval there is a glorious cameo by Adrian Lester as Daddy Brubeck, delivering an exhilarating version of The Rhythm of Life, while wearing a silver-sequined t-shirt and clutching a massive spliff.

This is a show that will have your feet tapping and your heart pounding!

Sweet Charity

Plays at Donmar Warehouse until Saturday 8 June 2019.

Box office: 020 3282 3808.

Last modified: April 6, 2021

Written by 10:31 am Theatre