Sweet Charity at Donmar Warehouse
Josie Rourke’s final production at the Donmar puts the “sweet” in Sweet Charity. Lou Reed’s Venus in Furs plays in the background as the world of the musical begins to unfold around us. A black and white movie of New York in the 60s is projected onto the wall and a ball pit is brought into the middle of the stage. Within the first five minutes, Anne-Marie Duff is thrown into said ball pit, which arguably sums up the mood of the play. It’s fun, silly and stylish but Duff’s remarkably human portrayal of Charity Hope Valentine undercuts the razzmatazz and very publicly reveals the struggle of putting on a happy face.
This 1966 book written by Neil Simon and developed into a musical by Cy Coleman and Dorothy fields, is about Charity Hope Valentine. She’s a hapless dance hall hostess looking to get out of the rut that is her life and find love. Her struggle is that she is constantly falling in love with manipulative men. As Nickie (Lizzy Connolly) puts it nicely, “You run your heart like a hotel. You’ve got guys checking in and out all the time.” The play has seen a recent surge in popularity and its not hard to see why, with its relatable protagonist and its iconic score with songs including Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now.
Rouke’s production is teeming with fresh ideas; it’s not stifled by the success of the original stage musical. She gives the show a strong and unique visual style. There are lots of “shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather” and Robert Jones’s silvery set design undoubtably takes inspiration from Andy Warhol’s Factory. The audience is treated to a nightclub dance number by several Warhol lookalikes. Wayne McGregor’s choreography finds an alternative to Bob Fosse’s original dance style; this might annoy those who are ardent fans of the original, but it does bring fresh life to the musical.
The cast is terrific. Lizzy Connolly and Debbi Kurup are dynamic and interesting to watch as Charity’s supportive friends and co-workers. Martin Marquez is excellent as the famous movie star Vittorio Vidal. But, of course, the stand-out performance is by Anne-Marie Duff, who really is the beating heart of the play. You don’t have to be a “big spender” to watch this either; free tickets are being released on Fridays from 26th April for those aged 25 and under.
Photo: Johan Persson
Sweet Charity is at Donmar Warehouse from 6th April until 8th June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.