The Pleasure Garden
by Glenn Chandler
music Charles Miller
dir Fenton Gray
with Sam Baumal, Jay Worley, Rory-Charlie Campbell, Ashleigh Harvey, Jennie Jacobs, Bea Amora Wong, Steve Watts, Jonathan Harlaw
Above the Stag Theatre, Vauxhall, London • 15.Sep-17.Oct.21
|Campbell, Worley, Harvey and Baumal|
It's the 1850s, and Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens has been one of London's leading entertainment venues for nearly 200 years, with acres of cultivated trees and flowers, including some overgrown areas favoured by those looking for a romantic hideaway. Meanwhile, public performances draw in crowds to watch musicians, circus acts and fireworks, plus rides in hot air balloons and military re-enactments, all of which are part of this story. But from the 1840s, the owners struggled to make the park financially viable, and its days are numbered.
|Jacobs and Watts|
There are some terrific comical touches along the way, mainly in Lady Maude's riotously funny asides. Accompanied by excellent on-stage musicians, the songs are peppered with witty wordplay and lots of innuendo, even as the show retains a prudish sense of Victorian morality. And the sets are nicely designed with colourful video imagery and inventive effects work. So it feels strange that the story and tone are so gloomy and never remotely sexy. This awkward mix undermines the romance between Ralph and Tom, leaving it feeling strangely unresolved from the start.
While the strong issues around identity are carefully woven into the narrative, the show is framed with telling present-day scenes that briefly touch on the current construction boom in the area, where blocks of flats are being built as investment properties for Russian and Arab billionaires, sucking the life out of the community. Perhaps a bit more development of these themes, as well as a little more joy in the love stories, might have given the plot and characters a more jaunty kick.
|Worley and Baumal|