B and C

Katie Tonkinson and Alex James-Hatton as a tooled-up Bonnie and Clyde.

Pictures: Richard Davenport

Bonnie & Clyde

Wolverhampton Grand


Clyde Chestnut Barrow and Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, despite some eleven murders and countless small-time armed robberies to their name, became American folk heroes, front page news celebrities who were elevated to legendary status by their death in a hail of bullets.

It was a story to spawn a rule breaking hit 1967 film and now Bonnie & Clyde, the musical which does its best to at least humanise the pair.

Alex James -Hatton is a strutting Clyde, creating a complex character it is hard to like or, for that matter, dislike. From a dirt-poor family and with a teen criminal record, he wants it all but is just not prepared to work for it, preferring car theft for transport and robbery for income.

Katie Tonkinson is initially a sweet and innocent Bonnie, another from a poor family after her father died, a teenager who has a dream of being a poet, singer and film star, the latter certainly achieved posthumously.

When she links up with Clyde we find her both naive and calculating, a dangerous combination, both being led by and sometimes leading Clyde on their crime spree robbing stores, petrol stations and small-town banks around rural Texas and surrounding states - a crime wave starting in 1932 and which lasted for just two years.

Clyde was the fifth of seven children and was close to brother Buck, played by Sam Ferriday, the pair staging an escape after being jailed for car theft and robbery. While Clyde, with new girl Bonnie, goes on the run Buck is persuaded by wife Blanche to give himself up and he is finally released as a free man making a new start.


Catherine Tyldesley as Blanche

The new start just becomes a return to the old ways when he runs to help injured brother Clyde and ends up in his gang dragging Blanche with him. It is hard to decide if Buck is loyal or just weak but of all the characters in this quartet of crime, Blanche is the one who garners any real  sympathy.

Played by Birmingham School of Acting graduate Catherine Tyldesley, she is a God fearing, loving wife who wants her husband to go straight and wants only to have a respectable and respected family.

When Buck rushes off to Clyde she reluctantly follows, not for a life of crime but because he is her husband and that is what wives do, she is just supporting him. It is a loyalty that will cost her.

Around them we have Ted, Bonnie’s would be suitor played by Daniel Reid-Walters, who joins the Sherrif’s department and ends up as one of the Barrow Gang hunters.

Then there is Jaz Ellington as the Preacher, emphasising Blanche’s religious commitment, and leading a lively gospel number with God’s Arms Are Aways Open.

The musical might not have songs that scream hit, but it did have some memorable solos led by a bittersweet Now that’s what you call a dream beautifully sung by Blanche and Dyin’ ain’t so bad equally wonderfully performed by Bonnie and reprised in a sad duet with Clyde.

There is another lovely duet in Act 1 with You love who you love, a telling song from Blanche and Bonnie, while Clyde probably manages what must be a theatrical first, singing a quite delightful and gentle love song, Bonnie, while sitting in a bathtub, sex among the suds style. 


Sam Ferriday as Buck with wife Blanche

Indeed the quality of singing by the fine cast was a hallmark of the musical while Don Black (lyrics) amd Frank Wildhorn (music) have managed to write songs which have a certain relevance and actually move the story along – not always the case in modern musicals.

There is humour along the way, with both Bonnie and Clyde having some classy retorts and one liners, victims asking for autographs and some poor soul at gun point having to decide if Bonnie and Clyde or Clyde and Bonnie sounds best. His answer is to faint.

There is even unintended humour such as when Bonnie smuggles a colt 45 in to her jailed Clyde and is searched, or more accurately, sexually assaulted by the pervert prison guard. After a fairly extensive sexual mauling Bonnie is let through only to then pull a rather large gun from her bra which does rather question the guard’s knowledge of female anatomy.

Incidentally, when it comes to sexual content there are perhaps a couple of instances when it goes further than needed to illustrate a point, and certainly beyond the age guidance of 12.

The set from Philip Witcomb is a masterpiece in flexibility with sliding walls and drops from the flies to create jails, homes, hairdressing salons, churches, police headquarters, forests - you name it.

It is all aided by video projections from Nina Dunn which adds to scene changes and which gives us the only really violent scene in the musical. Clyde was jailed for 16 years for robberies and car theft and, in jail, Clyde suffered serious sexual abuse and finally beat his abuser to death with an iron pipe, a revenge we see only as growing red blood splatter on a blank seemingly watermarked grayscale wall. 

Outside the realms of the musical, in reality another inmate already serving a life term for murder, and thought to be another victim, took the blame to save Clyde, but those who knew him said the assaults had changed Clyde, making him more insular and vicious and had left him angry and seeking revenge on the state and anyone in authority. Jail had succeeded in making him a bitter and hardened criminal.

Another unsung part of musicals, except when it goes wrong, is the sound design and Tom Marshall has got the balance right with a couple of nice touches, such as a slight echo added when Bonnie is in the prison block.

The seven piece band under talented musical director Issie Osborne, arriving fresh from MD on Six in the West End, does a fine job – pity we couldn’t squeeze a bit of Earl Scruggs Foggy Mountain Breakdown in there though . . .for old time's sake.

The result is an enjoyable musical with a fine cast and wonderful singing throughout telling the albeit sanitised tale of a pair of American folk heroes elevated to cult status in the 1930s and still seen as some sort of Robin Hood pairing. We leave them about to set off on their last, fateful journey.

When they were shot dead in a storm of 112 bullets in May 1934, Bonnie, with 26 bullet wounds, was 23 and Clyde, with 17, was 25.

Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston. The lethal lovebirds will be holed up at the Grand to 09-04-24. 

Roger Clarke


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