It’s about as twee and anodyne as shows come – but A Spoonful of Sherman is well-produced, energetically performed and entirely successful at bringing its (elderly) target audience to their feet.
If the Oliviers ever introduce a ‘most existential crises induced by an opening number’ category, clear your current account out and put everything on A Spoonful of Sherman. Honestly, don’t do it for me. Do it for yourself.
Hyperbolic as it sounds though, my life flashed before my eyes as Greenwich Theatre’s house lights dimmed and the honky-tonk pianos kicked into gear:
- Who are these peppy people meant to be and what are they doing on the set of Dragons Den.
- Isn’t this supposed to be A Spoonful of Shenton. Have I misread the press release. F#@k.
- Are their Venetian blinds utterly unashamedly broken for artistic reasons, or can they just not be f****d to go back to Ikea.
- If it’s the latter, would I have seen anything quite so anarchic in my life.
- Please let it be the latter.
- Surely the performers won’t humour the chronic directorial instruction that they ‘act’ like they’ve never heard each other sing before for the entire 135 minutes.
- Actually, please say we’re going to have to watch them try. Is this secretly a piece of endurance art.
- Has watching anything – on stage, on screen, in life – ever made me feel more ‘white’.
- No…no, I don’t think anything has.
- Wait, did a bloke actually just candidly propose reminiscing about Mary Poppins to be a worthy antidote to this “era of heightened global tensions”.
- Yes. Yes, he did.
- Wait, what, everyone seemed to nod along to that. I seemed to be the only one to involuntarily snort?
- I give up.
OK, I’ll stop with the shade. It’s probably not appropriate for a show as squeaky clean, innocently-intentioned and (presumably deliberately) anodyne as this. The fact of the matter is that the show’s clearly not aimed at me; it seems to be aimed at people genuinely are game to participate in a Mary P singalong and forget about our ‘heightened global tensions’. And maybe that’s a little nuts, but it’s their right to feel like that.
In this way, the genuinely thorny question that cropped up in my mind as soon as the performers opened their mouths was how to approach reviewing A Spoonful of Sherman when clearly not its target audience. The answer should be simple: I’ll, of course, happily cast aside personal responses to kids shows if and where appropriate. Who, for example, could think their own opinion accounted for anything if a piece causes 900 9-year-olds to consistently squeal with delight? Equally I’m reviewing a show for 2-year olds next weekend and their reactions will influence every part of my review, almost entirely. So shouldn’t the same apply when reviewing a show aimed at an age group considerably further away from your own, just older?
It was great to be sitting amongst other young people at the Greenwich Theatre’s gala performance (mostly other bloggers and friends of the younger cast members, I gathered from eavesdropping) – but when A Spoonful of Sherman tours to the Isle of Wight, Somerset and Weston Super Mare later in the year, I don’t think anyone’s under any illusion there’ll be enough ‘youths’ in attendance to bring the average age below 70.
And the truth is – for the vast majority of the silver-haired audience members in attendance on gala night – it really did go down wonderfully. The standing ovation it received has to speak for something, and you can understand why it occurred. Twee book, stilted dialogue and wonky blinds aside, the show’s extremely well-produced. The vocals on offer are consistently strong, the performances are well-drilled and energetic – and the songs, of course, are often nothing less than iconic masterpieces.
Sophie-Louise Dann (last seen stealing scenes in Made in Dagenham), Jenna Innes and Ben Stock (presmuably the musical director) have particularly infectious energies, imbuing their numbers with passion and playfulness and the (albeit tediously written) book with much-needed personality. Glen Facey seems a little nervous and restrained during Act 1, but – like pretty much every element of the show – takes off when he finally looks like he’s genuinely enjoying himself. Those moments, when they all appear to take a deep breath and respond naturally to both the audience and each other, are certainly amongst the nicest.
Stewart Nicholls’ choreography is spiky, economic and at its best when playful (something which his direction perhaps lacks; ensuring the five performers each had more defined or individualistic characters would likely have helped alleviate the monotony of the links).
So don’t get me wrong, it’s about as twee, old-fashioned and anodyne as shows come. But A Spoonful of Sherman is utterly, shamelessly indifferent about being anything other than those things – and undeniably successful at bringing real unrestrained grins to the faces of hundreds of elderly audience members. Maybe, just maybe, those two things make it one of the most ‘radical’ and refreshing things I’ve seen all year. I’ll have to get back to you on that one…