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The Pajama Game

Published May 14, 2014

What’s it all about?

Step into the Shaftesbury Theatre this grey English summer and you’ll find yourself in technicolor 1950s America, complete with huge petticoated skirts, baseball shirts and dubious sexual politics. At the Sleep-Tite factory the workers have other grievances on their mind however, the refusal of their barking boss Hasler to increase their wages by 7 1/2 cents.

Mixing up the goods – cosy looking cotton pajamas that provide plenty of comic potential – working in slow motion and striking are the way to go, but a rather large spanner is thrown into the works when union representative Babe and superintendent Sid fall in love.   

Will love conquer all? You may well be able to guess the ending, but this is classic musical theatre at its very best and perfectly designed for frivolous summer evenings. Richard Adler’s songs are witty and romantic and at its centre is a sparring couple with more chemistry than a science lab who channel their passion the way all the best stage duos do, through dazzling musical numbers.

Who’s in it?

Bringing the sparks and longing looks to the stage are Joanna Riding and Michael Xavier as Babe and Sid. The hugely talented pair successfully woo not only each other but also the audience with their playful performances – more affectionate pushing and shoving goes on than in a playground sandbox – and show stopping duets. Riding is brilliantly cast as the gutsy Babe – there are no whimpering lovesick leading ladies here – while the twinkle in Xavier’s eye is infectious and his natural ease suggests they really are having as much fun as it appears on stage.

The diamond in this Broadway classic’s crown however is the accomplished supporting ensemble, each of whom leave a unique and vital imprint on the story under Richard Eyre’s tight direction. Peter Polycarpou and Claire Machin as a neurotic timekeeper and his laid back gossipy secretary perform comedy duets with the most impeccable timing, while Alexis Owen-Hobbs is hilarious as the long-suffering and perpetually confused Gladys. Add to this a company of eye-wateringly talented dancers performing Stephen Mear’s exuberant choreography and you have yourself a hit.

What should I look out for?

Slapstick comedy and spectacular puns, knife throwing and a one-man duet. Yes, you read that right. Expect debate in the interval about the Marmite-like There Once Was A Man. You either love that Dolly Parton country and western vibe or not. For my money, I’m still singing it now.

Who was in the press night crowd?

We spotted Michael Ball at the bar – unaware he was standing directly in front of a poster of him in former Shaftesbury Theatre hit Hairspray – talking to Victoria Wood. Gary Wilmot, who will take over Polycarpou’s role next month, was there to support his predecessor and Christopher Biggins was sitting in the row behind us.

In a nutshell?

Richard Eyre delivers a charmingly classic show of the highest standard, treating audiences to a playful and romantic romp packed with exuberant fun.

What’s being said on Twitter?

‏@Markgatiss Loved The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury. Done with huge brio. So much fun & wonderful tunes. A terrific tonic.

@henrykerswell lucky to be at #PajamaGame tonight. one of the best shows I have seen in a long long time. go! #brilliant

Will I like it?

When a lonely saxophone opens the show, you know you’re in for an evening of classic musical theatre, and if you love your shows romantic rather than edgy, and musical numbers delivered with 100 volt smiles rather than satirical controversy, then yes.

The Pajama Game is playing until 13 September. You can book tickets through us here.

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