Ah, the French Riviera: where young aristocratic English girls are sent to become fine women, ripe for marriage; where the sun always shines; where cheerfulness is almost constant. In Regent’s Park’s Open Air theatre, where Sandy Wilson’s Riviera-set musical The Boy Friend opened last night, the glorious sunshine and clear blue sky added to the general well-being of the evening. Matthew Amer was there to soak up the happiness.
At Madame Dubonnet’s finishing school on the French Riviera, English aristocratic perfect young ladies worry only about one thing, finding a boyfriend. For millionaire’s daughter Polly Browne this is made more difficult as her father fears some young rapscallion will take her for a ride. Yet Polly falls for a delivery boy while her father, over to visit the school, finds Madame Dubonnet is a face from the past.
Sandy Wilson, who received a standing ovation when he took to the stage at the end of last night’s performance, wrote The Boyfriend in the 1950s as a tribute to the musicals of the 1920s. In doing so he kept the warm-hearted nature of the earlier uncomplicated love stories, but added a cheekily affectionate dig in the ribs.
After one meeting with her possible new beau, Polly is singing about being happy with him; after two, now that she at least knows his name, they sing about buying a home together (A Room In Bloomsbury). Fabulous rhyming in the songs – “It gives me such a glow inside to know our wishes coincide” – that elsewhere may seem cheap or contrived, here brings a warm smile to the face, while nowhere in London at the moment will you hear words such as ‘ripping’, ‘natty’, ‘chums’ or ‘chaps’ spoken as much.
Paul Farnsworth’s blue, pink and purple set is adorned with palm tree-style parasols and framed with the highest quality sandcastles, while the costumes are a feast for the eyes, never more so than at the carnival ball where outfits include a butterfly, a flower and an ice-cream sundae.
Director Ian Talbot, who almost steals the show as the innocently lusty Lord Brockhurst, resists the urge to continually throw a theatrical wink to the audience, making it all the more effective when he does.
In Rachel Jerram, the Open Air has found a Polly who manages to both move and amuse. Her band of friends – played by Summer Strallen, Selina Chilton, Haley Flaherty and Helen Owen – is endearingly flappy and giggly; they scream when boys are around and dance up a storm in Bill Deamer’s routines.
From the moment the band – housed in view at the rear of the stage – begins playing, the happy ending is certain. Last night’s audience’s reaction suggests that many a warm, fluffy, silly night will be spent at the Open Air this summer.