The ins and outs of Frank's Closet
PUBLISHED: 14:10 30 December 2009 | UPDATED: 17:14 16 August 2010
TO be greeted by a cod pearly queen in the theatre bar is always a good start. Sheila Blige is as good as her name and obliges us with a music
TO be greeted by a cod pearly queen in the theatre bar is always a good start. Sheila Blige is as good as her name and obliges us with a music hall song which requires us to join in the rude chorus. We happily oblige her and then settle down in the theatre to see what Frank has up his sleeve and in his closet, writes Edward Martyn.
Two nearly naked young men lay entwined on the floor as the chorus girls enter and anoint them with glitter, it becomes clear that this is a gay celebration as well as a play. Frank (Gary Amers) emerges in a black singlet, showing off his shiny pecs. and starts the story of his journey from a country childhood playing with the dolls his mother provided, along the confusing and often lonely path of his sexual awakening. At some point he discovers that he can express his true feelings through dressing up in his heroine's iconic costumes, which he collects one by one. Now a new life beckons and the exciting prospect of gay marriage to the love of his life Alan (Russell Whitehead). Trouble is, Alan wants him to make a fresh start and ditch his beloved costume collection.
Director Ian Burton keeps the action of this hour and a half play moving smoothly and sexily, with the chorus girls helping Frank prepare for his forthcoming nuptials by handing over his treasured party frocks to the V & A. in an attempt to cleanse his soul, but he doesn't manage to coax the winning smile and joi de vivre out of Gary Amers that would crown Stuart Wood's musical with the halcyon glow it deserves.
Russell Whitehead on the other hand gives it his all in a series of pastiche recreations of the seminal figures in Frank's journey of self-discovery. There are a couple of gems, including Julie Andrews as you've never seen her before, and Marie Lloyd with a deliciously bawdy song about 'The Boys Of London Town'. Mr Whitehead is rather sturdily built and his version of Judy Garland needs our suspension of disbelief until he wins us over with his super confident delivery of the emotive lyrics provided by Stuart Wood.
Kirsty Davide provides the cast with excellent choreography which they all pounce on and personalize to express their individual feelings giving the show a party atmosphere which goes well with the Music Hall set designed by Catherine Phelps. India Banks colourful costumes are everything that is required to bring Frank's fantasy world to glittering life.
The sound is a bit patchy at first, some of Frank's words going missing, but later on it settles down, especially when Russell's powerful delivery fills the lovely hall with vibrant harmony.
Ethel Merman struts about, advising us that 'A mister and a mister is better than a sister' and finally bellows 'You must never give up on your dream' all pretty standard advice for wavering gays, and Agnetha from Abba adds her two pennyworth to bolster Frank's resolve.
The ending is happy, if predictable, and we leave the theatre rejoicing that this gem of the East End is still thriving after 150 years of turbulent history.
* Frank's Closet at the Hoxton Hall, Hoxton Street, N1 can be seen from now until January 10. Ticket hotline: 0207 684 0060.