Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be at Theatre Royal Stratford East
Revived in 2012 after a successful run of nearly 900 performances and an award for Best Musical in the 60s, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be has been given another lease of life in an adaptation by Elliot Davis. Directed by Terry Johnson at the Royal Theatre Stratford East, it finds a beautiful 20th century setting for a musical based around nostalgia. The production starts with a flourish in the aisles of the theatre as the painted women of the night set the scene for what is unquestionably going to be a pretty risqué show. Legs and eyelashes flutter everywhere as tightly performed dance routine is executed by men clad in cheap suits on stage – although, really, who’s looking there at this point?!
Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be can be summarised in a handful of sentences – Fred, played in all his despondent stagnancy by Mark Arden, is fresh out of prison and having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that he’s no longer the king of the jungle and things really aren’t, as he says in a kicked puppy dog Cockney slur, anything like they used to be. Throw in a handful of prostitutes, a bent copper, some gambling, violence and a few reforming characters and you’ve pretty much got the plot.
However, despite the musical’s rather anorectic plotline, it’s fattened out nicely by some great musical numbers and pretty slick dance routines. EastEnders’ Jessie Wallace plays Lil, the ex-prostitute desperate for a husband and/or a change of scene, who sings that there are cracks on the ceiling all over this brothel masquerading as a bar. Luckily, it seems a modernist makeover and a bit of glitz can cover those cracks right up – why bother repairing the ceiling when a few fancy chairs and statement cacti will do? However, cracks do still show in this attempt to return things to what they once were, and the success of the musical can also be attributed to the acceptance at the end that change is needed.
By the close of Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be, charming would-be prostitute Rosie (Sarah Middleton) and a bent cop turning to the good help pave the way for change all over; the title song becomes a joyful call for change as opposed to a nostalgic anthem of defeat. All in all: glitteringly bouncy and a good evening.
Photo: Robert Day
Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be is at Theatre Royal Stratford until 8th June 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch actress Jessie Wallace speak about the production here: