facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Published 22 February 2011

There are some shows that create an almost insatiable urge in you to run up on stage and join in the jazz handing fun. The Donmar Warehouse’s frivolous The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee undoubtedly falls into this camp, but for a small handful of the audience they get to do just that.

Audience participation, the search for love, teenage angst, competitiveness, improvisation and a surprise appearance by Jesus; William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin’s musical comedy has it all. Starring Katherine Kingsley as Rona Lisa Perretti, a living, breathing Barbie doll of a woman, and Steve Pemberton as the deadpan Vice Principal Douglas Panch, this musical never takes itself too seriously but has the talent on stage to pull this nonchalant attitude off with polished effortlessness.

Taking place inside a high school gym, six over-achievers, up to their eyes in issues, have gathered to take part in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. A ‘comfort counsellor’ – played by a not so comforting looking bee mascot on community service – waits on the sidelines ready with a carton of juice and a hug to lead the losers off stage, while Perritti and Panch sit behind a table stacked high with words to test this most motley crew of kids.

A spelling bee may not sound like the most appetising subject for a musical – especially in Britain where we arguably lack the necessary appreciation for any competition that doesn’t involve a ball – but the witty wordplay, ridiculous jokes and sheer energy of the production is infectious and, as long as you can brush off the frightening glimpse into the world of pushy parents, it is a truly feel-good show.

While Kingsley shines as the competition host and Pemberton provides some of the biggest laughs using his surreal brand of comedy to improvise with four members of the audience who are brave enough to take part in the contest, the stars of the show are undoubtedly the kids themselves. There is William Barfee, whose social awkwardness and internal rage would make him an easy target for bullying if it were not for his magic foot, Chip Tolentino, whose greatest claim to success is being the fastest wood rubber in the boy scouts, Olive Ostrovsky, dressed like a human marshmallow and desperately seeking the love of her estranged mother, and the lisp-inflicted Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere whose two dads won’t stand for losers.

After a season that has included Derek Jacobi in King Lear and Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, no one could accuse the Donmar Warehouse of being afraid to try something new. They have even reinvented the space with Christopher Oram’s design replacing the seating and transforming the theatre into a hugely realistic looking high school gym.

While some might argue that The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee lacks the artistic intensity of the Donmar Warehouse’s typical offerings, no one could dispute that what it lacks in elegance or intellect, it more than makes up for with heart, relentless energy and an eye-watering amount of colour.

CM

Share

Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.