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Bugsy Malone

Birmingham Rep


Bugsy Malone is a sort of kids do Damon Runyon, (and if you haven’t read Runyon, give it a try) a tale of hoodlums, molls, speakeasies (bootleg soda joints in this case) with their cast of singers and showgirls and, as we are talking gangsters here remember, ambushes, massacres and shootings, plenty of shootings.

We join in the midst of a gang war between club owner Fat Sam and his gang of bad boys and Dandy Dan and his bunch of equally bad, bad boys - bad covering mainly their limited abilities in both brains and muscle in their chosen careers.

Dan is edging ahead in the battle thanks to his revolutionary new weapon, the splurge gun, and once splurged, that’s it you are out of the game – did I mention no one dies, or to be honest, even get’s injured, apart from their pride, if they are splurged, which seems to be the prototype for paintballing.

Into this battleground comes Bugsy Malone, who survives by doing “a bit of this and a bit of that” with no mob affiliation beyond being a regular at Fat Sam’s soda joint, and that’s enough to elevate him, reluctantly, to being Sam’s last, and only hope of survival, that and the fact Bugsy has fallen for wannabe actress Blousey.

Being last resort will pay him enough green ones to buy two tickets to Hollywood for him and his love, but true love never runs smooth so Bugsy has to avoid both Dandy Dan's bad boys and the clutches the club’s singer Tallulah, Fat Sam’s moll . . . and Bugsy’s old flame. 

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Mia Lakha as Blousey and Gabriel Payne as Bugsy with Ensemble. Pictures: Johan Persson

Based on the late Sir Alan Parker’s 1976 film the result is a lively, hugely entertaining production with some clever choreography with a bit of flapper thrown in from Drew McOnie, music and songs from Paul Williams that reek of the golden age of gangster movies in the heyday of Edward G, Bogart and Cagney, and a wonderful ensemble cast of hoods, dolls and low lifes.

The novelty of Bugsy Malone, the thing that made Parker a name was that it was a gangster film, true to the genre, but with a cast of children, and here the children bely their tender ages with confident, assured performances - only their youthful looks and voices give them away.

There are three actors for each of the main parts, working in a rotation, and for this performance we had Gabriel Payne in the eponymous role. He has a CV long enough to paper a small room and that experience shows in a standout performance. Shaun Sharma and Amar Blackman are the alternates.

Then we had Albie Snelson as Fat Sam, who the programme tells us, was making his professional debut, not that we would have known had we not been told. He bossed around his bunch of incompetent hoodlums like an old stager and showed some great timing. Other performances will see Isham Sankoh or Charlie Burns

Sam’s nemesis was Desmond Cole as sartorially elegant Dandy Dan, who looked and sounded the part with his camel coat hanging off the shoulders of his well-tailored suits. Rayhaan Kufuor-Gray or Kit Cranston will don the overcoat on other performances.

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Albie Snelson as Fat Sam with the showgirl Ensemble

Then there were the dolls, Blousey, the innocent, naive singer, is played by Mia Lakha, Delilah Bennett-Cardy or Avive Savannah Williams, while Taziva-Faye Katsande, Jasmine Sakyiama or Fayth Ifil take on the role of the vampish Tallulah, who can belt out a song and reel back in a man.

Aidan Oti, Ellis Sutherland or Elliot Arthur Mugume weigh in as Fizzy, the club sweeper up and would be dancer with an audition always tomorrow, with the baby of the piece, Babyface, played by either Cherry Mitra, Kayla-Mai Alvares and Ava Hope Smith.

Bugsy, we discover, was a decent boxer in his past and could have been a contender, except for his glass chin, so when he is mugged by a gang of self employed bad boys, and Leroy comes to the rescue, fighting off the whole crew with ease, Bugsy can see potential.

Leroy, played by Mohamed Bangura, is a giant of a man (mind you they all are, to be honest. against the child cast, but he is a giant over the adult cast as well) with a lethal punch, so Bugsy takes him to a boxing coach which in turn takes us to a clever boxing routine, one of many routines ending in a full cast dance celebration with the audience on their feet at the end.

A word here for an excellent seven piece band under musical director Connagh Tonkinson on the keyboard.

The set from Jon Bausor is a wonderful, flexible affair with an industrial wall at the back, a drop down club complete with tables from the flies, a roll on diner with steamed up windows and a skeletal gangster limo, all aided by Ben Harrison’s excellent sound – the Rep not the easiest to get balanced sound – and Philip Gladwell’s purposeful lighting.

This is a real fun family show for the school holidays, my grandsons, aged 11 and seven loved it, and at just under a couple of hours, with the time flying by, it is not going to outstay its welcome for younger minds. It is just a joy to watch, brimming with life, fun and enthusiasm from the child stars to the hard working, superb ensemble with their quick change costume changes and slick routines. Nothing ro frighten the horses and everything to delight the kids.

Directed by Sean Holmes Bugsy will be splurging its way across the Rep stage to Sunday, 14-08-22.

Roger Clarke


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