12 June 2014

The Pajama Game - Shaftesbury Theatre, Saturday 31st June 2014


A strike is imminent at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, where the workers churn out pajamas at a backbreaking pace. In the middle of this, a new superintendent, Sid Sorokin, has come from out of town to work in the factory. The union, led by Prez, is seeking a wage raise of seven and a half cents an hour. Sid and Babe are in opposite camps, yet romantic interest is sparked at their first encounter. Despite cajoling from her fellow garment workers, Babe appears to reject Sid. Meanwhile, Hines, the popular efficiency expert, is in love with Gladys, the company president's secretary, but is pushing her away with his jealous behavior. After witnessing a fight between the couple, Sid's secretary, Mabel, tries to help Hines break from his jealous ways.. Meanwhile, Sid, rejected again by Babe, is forced to confide his feelings to a dictaphone. 
During the annual company picnic,Prez chases after Gladys, who rejects his advances, a drunken Hines demonstrates his knife throwing act (these knives are thrown at Babe), and Babe warms up to Sid. As the picnic-goers head home, Prez turns his attentions to Mae, who responds in the positive far more quickly and aggressively than he'd expected. At Babe's home, Sid's romantic overtures are deflected by Babe, who makes casual conversation on tangential subjects.. Eventually the walls come down between the two, who admit their love for one another, but their estrangement is reinforced when they return to the factory. A slow-down is staged by the union, strongly supported by Babe. Sid, as factory superintendent, demands an "honest day's work" and threatens to fire slackers. Babe, however, is still determined to fight for their cause, and kicks her foot into the machinery, causes a general breakdown and Sid reluctantly fires her. As she leaves, he begins to wonder again whether a romance with her is a mistake 
At the Union meeting, Gladys performs for the rest of the union, with "the boys from the cutting room floor" After the main meeting, the Grievance Committee meets at Babe's house, to discuss further tactics, such as mismatching sizes of pajamas and sewing the fly-buttons onto the bottoms such that they are likely to come off and leave their wearer pants-less. At the meeting, as Prez and Mae's relationship is waning, Sid arrives and tries to smooth things over with Babe. Despite her feelings for Sid, she pushes him away 
Back at the factory, the girls reassure Hines, who is personally offended by the slow down.. Sid, now convinced that Babe's championship of the union is justified, takes Gladys out for the evening to a night club, "Hernando's Hideaway" , where he wheedles the key to the company's books from her. Hines and Babe each discover the pair and assume they are becoming romantically involved. Babe storms out, and Hines believes his jealous imaginings have come true. 
Using Gladys' key, Sid accesses the firm's books and discovers that the boss, Hasler, has already tacked on the extra seven and one-half cents to the production cost, but has kept all the extra profits for himself. 
In Gladys' office, Hines, still jealous out of his mind, flings knives past Sid and Gladys (deliberately missing, he claims), narrowly missing an increasingly paranoid Mr. Hasler. After detaining Hines, Sid then brings about Hasler's consent to a pay raise and rushes to bring the news to the Union Rally, already in progress. This news brings peace to the factory and to his love life, allowing him to reconnect with Babe. Everyone goes out to celebrate—at Hernando's Hideaway.
Babe Williams: Joanna Riding
Sid Soronkin: Michael Xavier
Vernon Hines: Peter Polycarpou
Gladys: Alexis Owen-Hobbs
Hasler: Colin Stinton
Prez: Eugene McCoy

Creative Team:
Words and music: Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Book: George Abbott and Richard Bissell
Director: Richard Eyre
Choreographer: Stephen Mear
Set and costumes: Tim Hatley
Lighting: Howard Harrison

There's an old saying in the theatre review world - "never go to see a show when you are feeling ill, because it will colour your review".  OK, I made that up, but you get my drift.  Having obviously caught the mother of all colds in the head when getting drenched by passing cars and pouring rain and then sitting in an unheated, half finished apartment block facing directly on to the river watching Venice Preserved (how I  suffer to bring you these reviews; I hope you appreciate them....) the lurgy was still washing round my system big time on Saturday when I was dragged to see a show I knew little of and wasn't feeling particularly enthusiastic about to begin with, having sat in a coffee shop nearby wrapped in misery, snot and cold sweat for half an hour beforehand because we got there too early. This is Him Indoors' major foible (well, one of them - go anywhere else with him and its all "Why are you hurrying?  Why are you walking so fast?" but when there are theatre tickets involved its like a bloody route march, 'eft right, 'eft right, 'eft right, come on you there with the runny nose, at the bleedin' double.  Bugger only knows why we had gone to see it; I keep pushing for tickets to Handbagged because I could do with a bloody good laugh, but it looks like I am going to have to tell the bank I have spent this month's mortgage money on tickets and damned well buy them myself. Grouch grouch grouch.  But anyway, at least it made a change from sitting at home wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV (if I say this enough times, I might persuade myself).  It looked like we were the youngest people there by a long way - grey heads and beige windcheaters aplenty in the stalls; Stan and Ethel in the seats directly in front of us were just finishing their supper from a wide variety of Tupperware containers, a party of old dears with walking sticks ambled past looking like a small flock of taupe flamingos and there were many old chaps wearing brown slacks and those shoes that look like Cornish Pasties. Oh no, I lie - there was a woman in the seats behind with two grandchildren aged about 10, who were already bored stiff, kicking the backs of our seats and bemoaning the fact that they were being expected to spend the next two hours out of mobile phone contact with their friends.  The two grandchildren were probably on contract to help out the orchestra as they supplied rhythmic seat kicking, musical drink slurping and acoustic chewing gum accompaniment for the majority of the first half, little darlings, until Grannie threatened them with ex-communication and the fires of hell if they didn't behave themselves, which improved  the situation no end for about 12 minutes.  Two tickets for the ferry, Charon, singles, have them ready, customers coming your way....

What I found so bizarre about this show was how unapologetically old-fashioned it was.  Call me a cynic, but it does seem really strange that a wonderful, intelligent show like From Here to Eternity more or less crashes and burns, when a bit of old hokum like this is packing them in.  I dunno, perhaps the theatregoing public are a lot older and less discriminating than I thought.  Perhaps they are all sitting at home in their beige cardigans watching Last of The Summer Wine re-runs and waiting for a new production of an old warhorse like The Pajama Game to be announced, at which point they nip to Rene in the High Street for a wash and set, pack up some sandwiches in Tupperware boxes and head to the West End.  Its not a bad show, just so dated.  At one point not more than 10 minutes into the first act, I leaned across to Him Indoors and whispered "Well, I wonder what is going to happen at the end?"   It is, of course, bleeding obvious, even if you have never seen the show before in your life.   The storyline is, more or less, non-existent and really only serves as a loose framework for the musical numbers - some of which even I am forced to admit are bloody good - You with the Stars in Your Eyes, This is My Once-a-Year Day, and Hernando's Hideaway are all justly famous, with Seven and a Half Cents probably being the best number in the entire show and deserving of being known more - its a big chorus number and looked a lot of fun to be in.  Some numbers are very dodgy - the execreble There Once Was a Man, for example, and others shoehorned in - Steam Heat only exists to give the second act a rousing opening and the justification for it in is absolutely nil. Obviously creative steam was running low by the time Adler and Ross got round to Act 2 because it consists of very little but reprises of numbers we have already heard at least once in Act 1.

Most of the performances were likeable enough, but no character really rises above the level of cardboard and very few of the cast seemed to care about even trying so.  Eugene McCoy's performance as Prez was so irritating I could happily have smacked him one with a Tupperware box wrested from Ethel's clammy grip (Ethel loved the show; you could tell by the way she turned to Sid every 38 seconds and said so.  Loudly). Peter Polycarpou, not my most favourite actor in the entire world, didn't seem to be giving his last performance in the role of Vernon Hines any oof at all - although his "Oh dear, I've taken my trousers off and now the Boss is here and I can't get them back on again" schtick seemed at least to go down well with the horrible grandchildren in the row behind, who momentarily seemed to forget the fact that they weren't on Facebook.  Still, I expected they Tweeted about it the moment the curtain came down.  Yes, Michael Xavier is good looking in a kind of plastic Barbie-and-Ken way, and yes he can sing, and yes he can move, and yes he has an impressive upper body (displayed pseudo-coyly in a completely unnecessary "get your tits out" moment right at the end) but really, its such a bland role that it was all in danger of going for nothing.

Really, I couldn't get past the fact that I thought the show was really, really old-fashioned (yes, I know that a lot of people like "old fashioned" but this particular example left me completely cold).  Mind you, even an old cynic like me briefly warmed to it when Him Indoors welled up on the way back to the bus stop because it was the kind of show that his mum and dad would have loved.  No doubt Ethel and Sid had a great time as well, but I didn't.

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