All Pumpkin, No Balls: Soho Cinders At Charing Cross Theatre
When they first planned Soho Cinders, they knew they were on to a winner: an update of the universal rags-to-riches story, some broad-brush characters to give actors scope for comedy and the undoubted enrichment of a score by Stiles and Drewe, hot from their successes with Betty Blue Eyes and Mary Poppins.
Even in 2011, the gender-bending of the hero had edge but now it’s positively zeitgeisty, and since then, Stiles and Drewe have further triumphed with stunning revisions for Half a Sixpence and Wind in the Willows.
The political climate has become even more ripe for ridicule, so why does it no longer work its magic?
Nothing stales as fast as political satire, so a story based on a young rent boy swerving between a closeted bisexual property developer and a House of Lords sugar daddy already feels tired, and the failure to update a seriously weak book with more topicality or better jokes makes it hard to engage.
Incidentally the best joke in the show is that the Soho launderette is called ‘Sit and Spin’, but both for better eighties nostalgia and more realistic gay characters, you might prefer the new production of My Beautiful Laundrette currently on tour.
Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman have great voices as the ‘Ugly’ Sisters but with their leopard print costumes and one-dimensional script they have nothing to work with other than to impersonate the woman from the Sun Bingo adverts.
Among the men, there are too many seedy characters with reedy voices and nobody comes out of this thin theatrical soup with much credit.
There’s a secondary comic relief where Ewan Gillies plays a ‘Primark-suited’ spin doctor for the London mayor in what’s clearly intended to be a homage to The Thick of It, but his lines are nowhere near as sharp as Malcolm Tucker’s.
Well-meaning, Soho Cinders wears its heart on its sleeve and campaigns against the sort of exclusion that still causes real pain, not least among the Soho ‘gay community’ — it could be what audiences really want.
If only it were rewritten.
Soho Cinders, Charing Cross Theatre, Craven Street, WC2. Tickets £15-37.50, until 21 December 2019.
Last Updated 08 November 2019