Frank (Gary Amers) and The Diva as Ethel Merman (Russell Whitehead). Photo by Spencer Cartwright
When Frank's Closet first opened in London, it featured Paul Daniels as an usher and the lovely Debbie McGee as one of the chorus girls. Such celebrity campery is gone from this new production; however, the cast could've done with a little magic last night to tackle technical problems which threatened, but never quite managed, to subdue the wonderful energy and exuberance on stage.
On the eve of his civil partnership, Frank (played by the hugely likeable Gary Amers) is getting rid of his costume collection, and going through all the usual pre-wedding jitters.
Around this supermodel-thin plot, the six different dresses being donated to the V&A call forth six different divas from the depths of Frank's closet; from Marie Lloyd, perfectly placed in the 1863-built Hoxton Hall, to ABBA's Agnetha Faltskog via a foul-mouthed Julie Andrews and a cheek-achingly funny Ethel Merman. At this time of year, you rather feel like you're watching Frank's Fairy Godmother, an Ugly Sister and a Genie all rolled into one.
Russell Whitehead almost steals the show as the Divas. With a voice that could produce goosebumps on the people in the pub over the road (none of your warbling X-factor wannabes singing along to a backing track here), you find yourself waiting with glee for the next time he appears from the closet.
The songs are wonderful, treading the fine line of loving parody. Karen Carpenter's When Things Fall Apart opens with the line "I might as well be dead"; Ethel Merman's A Mister and a Mister (performed with Danny La Rue's feather fans) is easily the catchiest number of the night. The show only once trips over into near-overblown schmaltz, and that was the somehow-still-funny Judy Garland, so what do you expect?
We also have to mention India Bank's brilliant costumes, and the lovely toy theatre-inspired set, designed by Catherine Phelps, which happily matches their website, and suits the toy-box like Hoxton Hall perfectly.
It's is a show that knows precisely what it is, and does it well. Programme notes ask that we "just let Frank's Closet bring the lost world of Music Hall and the declining world of campery back in dazzling Technicolour." If that sounds like something that'll have you tapping your feet to the tap choreography, wincing at the witty one-liners, tittering at the fake tits, clapping the camp costumes and sniggering through the songs, treat yourself to a ticket. Frank's Closet is an hour and a half of high-class colourful fun in an all-too-often grey world.