Review: Sweet Charity, book by Neil Simon, music & lyrics by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, New Wolsey Theatre, until September 26

Sweet Charity at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich.Katia Sartini as Nicki, Katie Birtill as Charity Val

Sweet Charity at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich.Katia Sartini as Nicki, Katie Birtill as Charity Valentine and Sophie Byrne as Helene. - Credit: Archant

Sweet Charity is a West End and Broadway classic. With songs like Hey Big Spender, Rhythm of Life and If My Friends Could See Me Now, it’s also got a soundtrack that lodges itself in people’s brains.

Sweet Charity at the New Wolsey Theatre

Sweet Charity at the New Wolsey Theatre - Credit: Archant

It’s a bright, sparkling show which rejoices in being a spectacular, large cast musical but in reality it is an intimate one woman show. This blockbuster stands or falls on the performance of Charity Valentine.

The New Wolsey has found itself a supremely talented Charity in the form of Katie Birtill. She not only sings with controlled power but invests the role with some quiet moments of genuine reflection.

Charity is usually portrayed as a nice-but-dim girl drifting through the tragedy of her life. However, director Peter Rowe and Birtill have clearly worked hard on fleshing out Charity’s personality.

Birtill’s Charity displays the necessary resilient optimism but also has some genuinely believable grit. This is a girl who has survived eight years at the Fandango Dance Hall.

The show also provides plenty of opportunity for supporting actors Katia Sartini and Sophie Byrne as jaded, fellow taxi-dancers Nicki and Helene, Jeffery Harmer as aging lothario Vittorio Vidal and James Haggie as the sweet but sad Oscar Lindquist.

Musical director Greg Palmer has created a rich, full sound, which belies the show’s actor-musician origins, while choreographer Francesca Jaynes created has several entertainingly quirky dance numbers which add to the sense of time and place.

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But, this production doesn’t just rely on songs and the dance routines to wow its audience. The comedy is delivered with a gloriously light touch – the scene between Charity and Vittorio in his bedroom is particularly well-timed and well-played.

The stage design by Libby Watson is simple and stylish, bringing cartoon-like sets in on trucks and displaying Roy Lichtenstein-style dialogue captions on electronic screens. These electronic exclamations like “Help!!” and “To be continued...” add to the sense of fun that permeates its way through this imaginative revival.

Watson’s collaboration with Peter Rowe to realise the lake in the park is inspired. Charity not only falls into the lake but through the magic of stage-craft disappears under the water.

This is a show which exudes stylish sense class from beginning to end. Birtill’s portrayal Charity Valentine is an effervescent ball of light which floats through the show and sends you home with a bounce in your step and a smile on your face.

It’s a must-see show that you would be crazy to miss.

Andrew Clarke

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