Theatre: Gangster kids splurge their way to glory

Olivia Shaye Masterson as Tallulah

Bugsy Malone, the film, made British director and screenwriter Alan Parker’s name in 1975. The musical, with songs by Paul Williams, is a parody of a Warner Bros gangster movie of the Prohibition 1930s, with stars such as Edward G Robinson, James Cagney, Paul Muni and Humphrey Bogart.

Parker’s originality was to cast children in all the roles. Their average age was 13. The kids behave like a bunch of gangsters or, if you prefer it, the gangsters behave like a bunch of kids. The hoods carry machine guns but they don’t fire bullets. They fire splurge.

Certain film critics became quite hysterical, dismissing it as pornographic. Let me reassure you the stage musical at Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, is a totally innocent spoof. There is no violence, no carnality, no vice, no alcohol – only splurge.

The stage version’s appeal is still that the lead roles are performed by kids. They are ably supported by an ensemble of young adult performers just out of drama school. There are three different casts. In the cast I saw the standout performance was by Olivia Shaye Masterson singing My Name is Tallulah.

The script occasionally drags. Diction is not always good. But Drew McOnie’s choreography always comes to the rescue and gives cast (and audience!) a big lift in such numbers as Bad Guys, So You Wanna Be a Boxer and You Give a Little Love. The finale, which leads into a dancing curtain call, is exhilarating.

Brian Friel’s Faith Healer at Donmar Warehouse is the story of an Irish itinerant priest whose life, spiritual redemption and violent death is told in four long, compelling monologues: two by the priest (Stephen Dillane) and two by his devoted and constantly humiliated wife (Gena McKee) and his jaunty, beer-drinking manager (Ron Cook). Each of them covers the same events, but there are important differences. Their memories play them false. Friel, eloquent and elegiac, is a great storyteller and the actors are the more pungent for addressing the audience directly. Nobody will want to leave the theatre until they know what really happened in the pub.

The priest, part showman, part charlatan, tours outposts in Wales and Scotland in a series of one-off performances in derelict halls. He possesses a gift for miracles over which he has no control and which he cannot understand. On one occasion, to his amazement, he heals 10 people in one go. He walks away from his stillborn baby (born in the back of his travelling van) knowing he has lost his gift and is unable to bring the baby back to life. The haunting production is by Lyndsey Turner and the monologues are impeccably delivered by the actors.

Natalia Osipova, a classical ballerina, is at the top of her profession. It is natural she should want to do something different and extend her range by mixing classical and modern dance. Osipova commissioned works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant and Arthur Pita. The latter two ballets are disappointing showcases for her and her partner in real life, Sergei Polunin (who famously walked out of the Royal Ballet in 2012). The triple bill will be returning to Sadler’s Wells and also visiting Edinburgh and New York.