David Essex rocks on with All The Fun Of The Fair
Fans give standing ovation to star's opening night at Milton Keynes Theatre.
THE local chapter of the David Essex fan club were out in force this week for their hero's return to Milton Keynes Theatre in a musical that was spawned from the entertainer's back catalogue.
All The Fun Of The Fair is a promising new show packed with up-and-coming talent taken under the benevolent wing of the leading man.
And at 61 Essex proved he still had a twinkle in the eye and a way with the ladies – both on stage and off. The front row couldn't wait to erupt from their seats at the curtain call to show their undiminished love and support for a man they've worshipped for more than 30 years.
It was initially disorientating to walk out of a blizzard that enveloped Milton Keynes on the opening night and into an auditorium where the opening scene had a gypsy being snowed on while accompanied by a howling gale. Had someone opened the roof?
The curtain rose with one of the star's mega hits, A Winter's Tale, and the stage was set for a story that was both bitter-sweet but ultimately uplifting in its telling.
We're back in 1978. Set in a travelling fair the story is one of fractured relationships between parents and children, of forbidden love, guilt, and, to a certain degree the loss of a traditional way of life experienced by the country's showmen.
There are echoes of Romeo and Juliet and Blood Brothers and more than a passing nod to the singer's early film success in That'll Be The Day.
Essex has always had a soft spot for fun-fairs and the people who run them. It's a subject close to the heart of the singer who earned his OBE for charity work and especially speaking up for the rights of the nation's travellers.
In All The Fun Of The Fair he plays Levi Lee, a widowed dad struggling to run the family business and control his wayward son who has an eye for a pretty blonde.
He's also plagued by nightmares and blames himself for his wife's untimely death. Levi is seen very much as the patriarch by the youngsters who take the show on the road.
The clothes may be a trifle shabby and workaday but the close cropped grey hair, hidden under a hat, and bearded face, gives the actor gravitas and a quiet dignity.
His whole performance follows the less is more principle. No raised voices, little movement. Come on, deliver your lines with solemnity, sing a song, give the ladies in the audience that renowned "come hither" look to bring on a hot flush or two, then depart, stage left.
It's very effective.
The action is left to the young cast, most of who look like they're straight out of stage school and grateful for their first big break in a major musical on a national tour.
The Byronic tousled hair and dark brooding of the fairground romeo that were a young David Essex trademark, have been passed on to rising star
Paul-Ryan Carberry making his professional debut in the show.
Carberry plays Jack, "Jack the lad", the fairground's wild boy, and son of the owner. It's a tough, emotional part, but the youngster convinced as a idealistic and ambitious boy torn between teenage angst and rebelliousness and the love of his family.
Jack's tangled love-life, the future of the fair, and Levi's yearning to sleep easy at night sends the story on a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Mention must be made of a stand-out performance by Stefan Butler who brought real pathos to the role of Jack's surrogate brother, Jonny.
David Burrows, who worked with Essex in Aspects of Love, made a memorable appearance as local "heavy" Harvey while his henchman side-kick, the poodle-permed blond Druid (Barry Bloxham) brought back memories of Derek Thompson (Casualty's Charlie) in Long Good Friday.
In-between the lines we have the songs that include Hold Me Close, Rock On, Gonna Make You A Star, Lamplight and Silver Dream Machine. Even I wallowed in nostalgia (yes, I will admit to owning Rock On circa 1973, but please don't tell anyone).
It was great to hear them even though most were sung by the company or other cast members. But it must be said that the years did roll away when Mr Essex took the spotlight for three solos.
All The Fun Of The Fair runs until Saturday, February 14. For tickets and information contact the box office 0870 060 6652 or go on-line www.ambassadortickets.com/miltonkeynes
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