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David delights in a tear-jerking triumph

PUBLISHED: 12:07 03 October 2008 | UPDATED: 17:19 16 August 2010

MOVING: David Essex.

MOVING: David Essex.

THE title is a misleading one - All the Fun of the Fair - David Essex s new musical which opened recently at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley is as dark as they come, writes Mark Campbell.

THE title is a misleading one - All the Fun of the Fair - David Essex's new musical which opened recently at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley is as dark as they come, writes Mark Campbell.

Featuring songs from Essex's extensive backlist, Jon Conway's story gifts the legendary singer with a peach of a part as Levi, proprietor of an old-fashioned funfair in 1978. Burdened with guilt over the death of his wife, and trying to keep his son Jack (the excellent Paul-Ryan Carberry) on the straight and narrow, Essex exudes a steely melancholy throughout. In a rock-solid ensemble cast, he is the star of the show. Despite his mature appearance and lack of boyish curly hair - a fact that's gently mocked in the script - he projects charisma and charm just by standing there. And when tragedy strikes - as you know it will - he ensures that there isn't a dry eye in the house. Fortune-teller Louisa English, 'Gene Hunt gone bad' David Burrows and gravel-voiced hardman Barry Bloxham stand out amongst the vibrant, well-drawn cast of characters.

Despite a glaring Star Wars anachronism, the 1978 setting is brilliantly realised. Levi's fairground is a litter-strewn shadow of its former self, juxtaposed with some awesome moments of stage magic - merry-go-round horses float down from the heavens and dodgem cars zip madly around the stage. Thankfully all the songs support the storyline, rather than the other way round.

Father and Son, A Winter's Tale and It's Gonna Be Alright seemed tailor-made.

And the grim, uniquely British feel echoes such diverse sources as Life on Mars, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and - in the show's most chilling moment - the calculated cruelty of the Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. Director Nikolai Foster makes the whole thing feel operatic in scope, without sacrificing the small-scale human story at its centre. Colin Richmond's design is beautiful, with Guy Hoare's powerful lighting bringing out every nuance of decayed glamour. The climactic Wall of Death ride has little impact, sadly, but in every other way the show is a triumph for all concerned.

* The next new production at the Churchill Theatre is Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, from the 20 October. Tickets: 0870 060 6620.

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