Spanking Show Opens Union Theatre's New Venue

By Johnny Fox Last edited 28 months ago

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Spanking Show Opens Union Theatre's New Venue

It’s a cause for celebration that London has a (three-quarters of a) new fringe theatre. The Union has moved across the street to a new space with fine glass-fronted aspect to a furnished courtyard for drinking, and a square-ceilinged ‘black box’ auditorium that cunningly disguises the fact it’s under the railway line from Blackfriars to Brighton. Well-insulated, too, we never felt a rumble. The theatre’s fully-functioning and you can see the equipment installed ready for an enterprising bar and grill.

In the meantime, being a few metres from Southwark tube, it’s sandwiched for culinary purposes between back to basics pub the Union Jack (all-day breakfast £4.95, beans extra 50p) and Gordon Ramsay’s industrial-airy Union Street Café where Mediterranean influenced dishes are ‘sourced from Borough Market’. We’re not sure where ‘Chef Ramsay’ shops when Borough Market is shut, but certainly wouldn’t knock it when the ‘Spoilt for Summer’ menu of three courses at £27 is as bright, colourful and delicious as a hot afternoon in Portofino.

The creative energy behind the Union, Sasha Regan, is most recently known for her bravura all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan: HMS Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and Iolanthe, as well as a string of clever chamber productions of classic musicals in the old railway arch with its famously-criticised toilets with strange growths of green-painted fungus. 

The new space has a trio of clean and charming loos, each different, where you can tinkle in comfort. Perhaps because Regan’s been busy in hard hat and steel toecaps, the first production isn’t home-grown but a revival of Michael Strassen’s production of The Fix from 2012 when The Stage described the Union as ‘one of London’s hottest fringe theatres’. In the brand spanking new space, teething troubles with the air conditioning mean it still is.

Fortunately, construction isn’t complete and hopefully air-con and issues with sight-lines can soon be addressed, but there's still no allocated seating.  The lighting rig is certainly impressive; it felt a bit like sitting under the spaceship in 'Close Encounters'.

‘Brand spanking new’ is appropriate for the show, too. The Fix is a topical American musical comedy which starts with some very convincing flagellation as a prospective US president dies ‘on the job’ with his mistress.

In a plot which is The West Wing: The Musical before the interval, and The Sopranos after, his Jackie Kennedy-esque widow (scenery chewing fun and tiptop vocals from Lucy Williamson) shifts her manipulative sights to her son, Fra Fee who was superb as Candide at the Menier Chocolate Factory but here seems to struggle accessing his chest voice without a radio mike. She’s abetted by a political schemer played to the hilt by Ken Christiansen as a drily witted and devious combination of Stanley Tucci in – well, anything he’s ever been in – and Francis Urquhart.  

You might think this a good show, but we couldn’t possibly comment.

The Fix continues at the Union Theatre until 6 August 2016.  Tickets £25 from the theatre website.  We saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 22 July 2016