Review: Will Everyone Get The Jokes At Jest End?

Jest End, Waterloo East Theatre ★★★☆☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 34 months ago
Review: Will Everyone Get The Jokes At Jest End? Jest End, Waterloo East Theatre 3

How do you like your musical theatre? An occasional treat for your nan’s birthday? A full-on Christmas outing to the latest Disney blockbuster via Pizza Express, and not much change from a grand? Or 28 of them on a relentless conveyor belt with high impact performances and a battery of jokes?

Jest End is the latter, and much as we love a good show tune, it's pretty rich even for our blood. At a Sunday matinee in the company of a full house of working theatre people, we were perilously close to hyperglycameron mackintosa.

Modelled on Forbidden Broadway, which tends to stick to spoofing the lyrics and stars of the musicals it lampoons, Garry Lake's home grown show takes a broader and more acetic swipe at the industry, specifically exploitation of actors — three separate numbers feature the contrast between high ticket prices on Elf, Book of Mormon or Green Day’s American Idiot and the poor rates of pay for the cast.

Some of the targets are squidgily soft — we know just two impresarios own most West End real estate, or that Chicago’s run for ever: smart numbers like the trilling delight of Alternate Christine in Phantom that she only has to work two days a week, or the Mary Poppins lament about lame-brain choreography do hit home. But you’d really need to be in the know to spot the send-up of Menier Chocolate Factory artistic director David Babani, and to have been around a while to appreciate the less-than-kindly caricature of Frances Ruffelle, Eponine in Les Miserables 30 years ago, as an unemployable geriatric.

The performers are superb, though, and the MD James Doughty indefatigable. The 2015 show was revived with just a week’s rehearsal and even though the pace is breathless, the cast never are. Faultless work from Simon Bailey, Scott Garnham, Jodie Jacobs, and exciting newcomer Lizzy Connolly surely making a brief pitstop between stealing every scene in Xanadu and West End stardom.

There is a joke so internalised the show may just eat itself: Jacobs and Connolly portray Louise Dearman and Rachel Tucker as Glinda and Elphaba arguing about who’s actually the lead in Wicked, just as Tucker and Dearman did themselves in Jest End — with clarity and subtlety — in 2010.

Fun, undoubtedly. But if it’s to have another run beyond these two weeks at Waterloo, it needs more topicality and sharper satire.

Jest End is on at Waterloo East Theatre until 6 December. Tickets £18 (concessions £15). Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 02 December 2015