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A CurtainUp London London Review
Ace of Clubs

"Would you like to stick a pin in my balloon?"— Baby
Ace of Clubs
Gary Wood as Harry and Emma Harris as Pinkie (Photo: Roy Tan)
The Union Theatre has been transformed into a cosy 1940's nightclub for the revival of one of Noel Coward's perhaps lesser-known musicals Ace Of Clubs. It is immediately clear upon entering the space that this is no ordinary end-on set up, as the audience is welcomed by members of the cast and positioned at tables. From the start we are thrown into the centre of the action both onstage and off and Jack Thorpe-Baker's production is certainly full of heart and gusto but is sadly also one that is afflicted by a lack of cohesion in its construction.

Ace Of Clubs is a story of local gangsters, cabaret bars, mishaps and misplaced parcels. With the ever-present love story thrown in too, it is a great tonic for Coward fans and this production does achieve in creating the wit and flamboyancy one expects from his productions. This dedication to the style of the piece, I fear though, has subsequently left structure and context neglected. Coward is more than skin deep and Thorpe-Baker's production seems to tip toe along the surface rather than packing any real punches of drama.

That said, the talent on stage, and indeed all around the space, is of a high calibre. It is an ensemble production with not a weak member and with much of the action taking place tableside it is certainly quite an exposed performance for many. I love how up close and personal fringe theatre can be and when your wine is in danger of being toppled over by a nightclub brawl, you can't get more intimate than that. One issue, though, is because much of the 'offstage' action of the piece is acted to the sides and to the wings it does feel a little as if more thought has been placed on the musical elements on stage. This causes the story to be slightly lost in translation.

Emma Harris plays Pinkie Leroy, the headline act, with a perfect sense of style. With a stunning voice, her songs "My Kind Of Man" and "Josephine" are some of the high points of the night. The moments of passion and romance between her and Harry Hornby, a sailor and admirer played by Gary Wood, are some of the most believable. John Game and Liam Bewley are also delightful as Smiling Synder and Gus, two gangsters that inject into the piece both trepidation and humour. Patrick Neyman juxtaposes fervency and suspiciousness as Benny, the manager of the Ace Of Clubs and Jonathan Barnes has great presence as Detective Inspector Warrilove, forever on Benny and the mob's heels. Lucy May Barker is charming as Baby, enchanting the audience with the fabulous number "Would you like to stick a pin in my balloon?"

Ace Of Clubs is an enjoyable evening with some impressive talent on offer but which has not been as well harnessed as one would like. It is a very difficult style of theatre to get right and no matter how much attention is given to the camp, glitz and glamour, if the blood and bones aren't fashioned then there is no journey for the audience.

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Ace of Clubs
Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Jack Thorpe-Baker
Designed by William Fricker

Starring: Emma Harris, Gary Wood, Kate Milner-Evans, Patrick Neyman, Lucy May Barker, Michael Hobbs, John Game, Liam Bewley, Jonathan Barnes, Georgia Evans, Caroline Crawley, Jake Lindsay, Ross Russell, Louise Ann Close, Molly May Gardiner, Lucy Murdoch, Holly Bluett, Riccardo Franco
Choreography: Mark Smith
Musical Direction: Gemma Hawkins
Costume: Susan Kulkarni
Lighting: Tom Boucher
Sound: James Nicholson
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with a 15 minute interval
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
Booking to 31st May 2014
Reviewed by Tim Sealey based on 9th May 2014 production at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1 0LX
Musical Numbers
  • "Top of the Morning"
  • "My Kind of Man" Pinkie
  • "This Could Be True" Pinkie and Harry
  • "Nothing Can Last For Ever" Rita
  • "Something about A Sailor" Harry
  • "I'll Never, Never Know" Pinkie
  • "Three Juvenile Delinquents" The Delinquents
  • "Sail Away" Harry
  • "Josephine" Pinkie
  • "Would You Like To Stick A Pin In My Balloon" Baby
  • "In a Boat, On A Lake, With My Darling" Pinkie and Harry
  • "I Like America" Harry
  • "Why Does Love Get In The Way So?" Pinkie
  • "Evening in Summer" Rita
  • "Baby's Bottle"
  • "Chase Me Charlie" Pinkie
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