Just a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus, the intimate Jermyn Street Theatre has quietly been building a reputation for quality productions with a focus on unknown and forgotten classics and recently scored a massive success with the stage premiere of Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall which subsequently transferred into the West End. And with blockbuster musicals like The Bodyguard and Viva Forever looming on the horizon, to follow that with a Broadway obscurity never before performed in the UK might have seemed a perverse choice but for his final production as Artistic Director of this theatre, Gene David Kirk has unearthed an absolute knock-out success in Boy Meets Boy.
Written in 1975 by Bill Solly and Donald Ward, it is set in 1936 as a pastiche of the golden screwball era of Fred and Ginger but this is a world in which there’s a same-sexual equality which not even 2012 can match. For though our Fred is Casey O’Brien, a sozzled society journalist who has managed to sleep through the 1936 abdication crisis, and our Ginger is British aristocrat Guy Rose, who has just left playboy millionaire Clarence Cutler standing at the altar, no-one bats an eyelid. This is a world where equality is just a given, a natural part of high society who are happy to gossip about everyone, gay or straight. Such a simple innovation but one that is a genuine breath of fresh air that revels in its joyous freedom in a show that is unashamedly silly, sentimental yet superlative.
Stephen Ashfield’s weary charm as Casey, forced to chase the story of this failed wedding in order to save his job, is excellently observed as his ever-wandering eye is finally captured by the stories he hears of the mysterious and elusive Guy, played with a Clark Kent-like gift for transformation by Craig Fletcher, as the reality is that Guy is something of a (not so) ugly duckling. The chemistry that develops between this pair is simply adorable to watch, the frisson of mutual attraction that characterises a stunning Act 1 song and dance finale is matched by the daffy ridiculousness of the highly comical It’s A Boy’s Life which sees them bonding hilariously over both being Scouts – this is how you do romantic comedy.
There’s much laughter to be had elsewhere too: from Ben Kavanagh’s rejected Clarence, never has bitterness seemed so appealingly funny as biting one-liners and asides sparkle like diamonds to the fiercely drilled ensemble who cover a multitude of supporting roles, fully embracing Lee Proud’s astute choreography that frequently mixes up gender roles with a beautiful warmth and humour. Bill Solly’s music captures much of the era’s striking simplicity, these are uncomplicated love songs that call to mind the likes of Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers, if not with quite the same lyrical ingenuity and Kirk’s direction marshals all these elements to keep the entire production as one of the most well-balanced good-natured treasures you’re likely to see all year long.
Who knows how it took this long for such a hidden gem as Boy Meets Boy to surface in the UK, so take this opportunity to visit this uniquely open-minded, open-hearted musical comedy with open arms. It’s funny and romantic and playful and tuneful, but in its perceptive innovation of a world free of homophobia, it is also vitally important. I’ve rarely been prouder or happier in leaving a theatre.