Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

bonnie quartet

Janine Henderson as Blanche, Dan McCloskey as Buck, Sophie McCoy as Bonnie and Tom Cooper as Clyde

Bonnie & Clyde

Sutton Arts Theatre


Sutton Arts has a well earned reputation for it’s high quality musicals, starting with West Side Story back in 2015, and Clyde Chestnut Barrow and Bonnie Elizabeth Parker might have been small time bandits but they have given Sutton Arts another big time triumph.

The ill-fated professional tour of the musical that passed through Wolverhampton Grand recently was best described as average. It seemed lost, a story and production too small to fill a big stage so it was a revelation to find it worked so much better on the more confined and much more intimate Sutton stage. Instead of merely observing from a distance you became involved and started to feel for the characters.

The pair were given the legendary status they craved thanks to Hollywood and Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, but they were, in reality, just small-time, short-lived armed robbers and killers who terrorised rural Texas and surrounding states for just 21 months in the early 1930s, robbing mainly small town grocery stores, filling stations and funeral homes killing anyone who got in their way.

We open with young Bonnie, played by a delightful Evie O’Malley, whose father died when she was four, dreaming of being a film star and writer, and young Clyde, a hint of violence to come from a gun toting Callum Lapham, with a dream of being as famous as Al Capone – bang, bang.

Dreams were sort of fulfilled, both achieved fame, even if it was notoriety rather than adulation, and Bonnie’s poems, not quite to T S Eliot’s standard, did get published.


Barrow, Clyde Chestnut - deceased

Children grow into adults and Tom Cooper gives us a confident showing as the cocky Barrow, not the brightest but quick witted, and he displays an anger and hatred of authority, not surprising after his treatment in prison. You suspect he expects to die young, perhaps even craves it to cement his place in legend. His parents were sharecroppers, lost their land and lived in abject poverty in a camp of makeshift tents which was hardly a settled start in life.

Sophie McCoy is an absolute delight as Bonnie. In the professional production Bonnie was just another character, here McCoy not only brings her to life, she makes you feel for her. She is the young girl next door attracted to the neighbourhood real bad ‘un, a doomed heroine with dreams that will never come true and a bleak future we all know awaits her.

Clyde’s early partner in crime is brother Buck, who is even less bright, dim witted in fact, but more genial than Clyde and more easily led than leading in a lovely performance from Dan McCloskey. Buck, on the run after a prison break with Clyde, is persuaded to give himself up and then go straight by his God-fearing wife Blanche. He does his best but his eventual downfall is his unwavering and commendable, if ill-advised, loyalty to his brother.

The same loyalty is shown to him by Blanche in another wonderful performance, this time from Janine Henderson - its the ladies that take the star honours in this one.

bonnie mug

Parker, Bonnie Elizabeth -deceased

Blanche runs a hair salon and does her best to keep Buck on the straight and narrow, seeing Clyde for what he is - a small-time, arrogant thug who means nothing but trouble for anyone close to him. Bonnie and Blanche might not get on that well, Clyde being the dividing line, but McCoy and Henderson both have great voices and combine beautifully in the lovely ballad You Love Who You Love, with each sadly recounting the flawed men in their lives.

Both have bittersweet and moving solos to their name as well with Blanche accepting her life with That's What You Call a Dream and Bonnie accepting her’s with the prophetic Dyin' Ain't So Bad.

On the sidelines we have Ted Hinton, the Sheriff’s deputy, who you really feel for in the hands of Rich Milward who really makes his supporting role stand out. Ted is head over heels in love with Bonnie, and when even a blind man can see she is patently one half of the serial killing duo of armed robbers, he tries desperately to defend her, excuse her, tell everyone she is a good person and not involved. Love can be blind as well.

There is a moving moment when he sings the sad ballad of unrequited love, You Can Do Better Than Him, quite beautifully, with Clyde joining in from his prison cell in the background.

Clyde has his own moment with his love song Bonnie which could perhaps be the only time we see Clyde really caring about someone other than himself.

Everyone has parents with Jayne Lunn as the widowed Emma Parker, warning her daughter about Clyde, and Fay Hatch and Ray Lawrence as Cumie and Henry Barrow, with Henry not averse to enjoying some of the proceeds of his son’s criminal endeavours.

Feeding Blanche’s religious look on life is the Preacher who is given a waving hands in the air, hallelujah brother and sisters, come to Jesus fervour by Paul Atkins bringing a touch of gospel to proceedings belting out God’s Arms Are Always Open with an enthusiastic ensemble,  an ensemble running to 22 souls needing to be saved at one time or another.

Atkins also moonlights as the less Godly and more pervy prison guard with a penchant for body searches of female visitors.

The law comes in the shape of Jerome Pinnock-Glasgow as the no nonsense sheriff, booted and white suited, and destined to not make the final showdown. 

Then there is Det Frank Hamer, retired Texas Ranger, played by Andrew Tomlinson, brought in by the Governor, in more ways than one in this case, played by Valerie Tomlinson. Hamer is not one for rules or regulations which might be good for solving a problem on a permanent if procedurally dubious basis but bad in every other way for Bonnie & Clyde as he vows to hunt them down.

Anyone who has seen the film, or is aware of the story, will know the ending, an ending portrayed here with the sound of gunshots and flashing lights, an ending that was marked by its 90th anniversary last month, the couple having died in a hail of around 130 bullets in an ambush on May 23, 1934.

Director Emily Armstrong has displayed an enormous amount of skilled stagecraft in mounting this production, helped by another brilliant set from Mark Nattrass, who also pops up as a policeman.

The theatre has no real wings and no flies so every set change is a challenge and the set builders have managed a hair salon, two cars, a coffee shop, a jail and a shoot out with some remarkable ingenuity from folding cars to car engine/cupboards all changed in a flash.

Lighting design from Dave Pittam and Jack Tustin of Going Dark Technical Services deserved a star rating of its own, picking out important moments in spots, using beams for telling effect and regularly using harsh back lighting to create dramatic silhouettes. Stage lighting should either be unobtrusive or it should create its own enhanced version of the story and this set up added drama and its own magic to the production.

Musical director Nick Allen and the seven piece band never missed a beat with everything from honky tonk and jazz, to plaintiff piano, gospel, delta blues and slide guitar.

There was also clever use of video screens set in the walls around the stage to carry photos, headlines and landscapes to help set scenes along with a video wall at the rear, the video design and projection coming from Chistopher Commander.

If there was a fault, sound might have needed tweaking but this was a first night and first time with a full auditorium which is always a challenge and is quickly sorted for future performances.

The musical is a sanitised version of a small-time career criminal, and a largely bungling one at that, and his moll, the pair becoming celebrities in and around Texas as prohibition came to an end and America suffered in the Great Depression, a time chronicled in novels such as The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men and Tobacco Road.

There is that feeling of poverty and depression on stage with a lack of bright colours and a dull, drab look to sets with no signs of affluence to be seen. The excellent cast carry everything along with considerable style and Armstrong as the director has kept up a steady pace, pausing only to highlight the gentler, more telling numbers and has mixed in a whole range of audio visuals and tech to lift this from merely average into something rather special. The duo will be running wild to 29-06-24.

Roger Clarke


Sutton Arts 

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