“There’s only one reason you’re here tonight”
The rebranding of the New Players Theatre as the Charing Cross Theatre has to be one of the least effective I have come across in quite some time. The theatre itself, the signage and the website still bear the old name, only the tickets actually say Charing Cross on them which makes for a strange state of affairs. It is now playing late-night home to Naked Boys Singing, which is proving remarkably enduring given that this is the fourth outing for Phil Willmott’s production after previous runs at the King’s Head and the Arts Theatre: what could its appeal be…?!
It’s a musical comedy revue loosely in the style of A Chorus Line, following 7 guys as they audition for and then perform in a show which requires them to be in the nude. Which they do, eventually. But before that, there’s an attempt at trying to add depth to proceedings by filling the back-story of some of the protagonists and philosophising about what it means to really get naked, but given that the height of humour here is men shouting as many different terms for male genitalia as they can, any level of sophistication is pretty much wasted.
There’s 16 original songs here, boasting 13 writers and so whilst the attempt to impose a narrative to try and get us to care for some of these boys is a brave one, it is ultimately futile as the vast majority of the writing is so puerile in its humour about sex, masturbation and the endless cock jokes. A couple of the songs managed to rise above it with some witty wordplay especially in the circumcision song, which is delivered to one of the stronger singers here. The ensemble are enthusiastic but given it is a cabaret in all but name, a couple of them are painfully exposed as unable to inject the necessary star quality that might transcend the limitations of the material. Matters were not helped by the rather anaemic sound quality.
By the time the big reveal is, well, revealed to the tune of a thumping 90s Eurobeat ditty, my eyes were firmly fixed on the door and whether an early exit was possible. Any pretence at subtlety is lost as admirably athletic dance routines are performed with a disarming frankness but to little effect in the end. In building up the anticipation by only having the nudity arrive in the final quarter of the show and trying to create something deeper with these characters, there’s something sad about how it is all then junked for a 20 minute pay-off. Admittedly the clue to this show’s appeal is in the title and I suspect anything I say here won’t impact on the people who want to go, but it is a shame that the audience is not being treated to anything more than a desperately weak piece of theatre.