REVIEW: Bonnie & Clyde story retold with pace, cracking songs and great performances

Bonnie & Clyde ©The Other RichardBonnie & Clyde ©The Other Richard
Bonnie & Clyde ©The Other Richard
Bonnie & Clyde, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, April 3-6. Also heading to Brighton in July.

Bonnie & Clyde really is in the top tier of modern musicals – compelling and clear story-telling, great songs and a big emotional punch amid oodles of fascinating moral ambiguity.

Bonnie & Clyde were notorious gangsters and, let’s face, brutal killers. Which doesn’t seem obvious material for great night out at the theatre. Get it wrong and it could appear crass glamourisation of murder – which is, of course, how they were perceived back in the day for the way they stuck more than two fingers up at authority. But times are different now – and insensitivity is potentially a danger.

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However, this is a musical which gets it right and gives us plenty of background. In fact, we don’t get to the couple’s robbery spree until the second half. Instead, in the first, we get the absorbing build-up, a real creation of character: Bonnie Parker’s and Clyde Barrow’s tough upbringing, his descent into crime, the dreams they share and their determination to be someone, to be remembered. And so they come together, Katie Tonkinson and Alex James-Hatton making them live and breathe superbly, the attraction between them real. First come the hopes – and then comes the fatalism of the second half. They know their reign will be short. They draw comfort in knowing that most likely they will die together – a fact the musical rightly gives us in its opening moments.

The performances are first-class. There is tenderness and there is dark humour too in their downward spiral. Terrific too from Catherine Tyldesley as Blanche Barrow, Clyde’s sister-in-law who clings to the Bible and yet is torn by her love for her increasingly-doomed husband Buck (Sam Ferriday), a man for whom there was once hope but who is ever more drawn into Clyde’s desperately violent world.

All four in the fated two couples are excellent – and the score does the rest, songs of power and reflection amid a tale told with pace and skill which leaves you with a real sense of just what Bonnie & Clyde were about and just how they made their mark.

Also Theatre Royal Brighton, July 23 -27 and Kings Theatre, Portsmouth, September 10-14.

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