“I ought to be ashamed of myself”
So sings Andy Capp throughout his eponymous turn in Andy Capp The Musical, a knowing nod to thoroughly misogynistic nature of the character and its unremitting political incorrectness. And it is this that emerges as the strangest thing about making a musical out of him, rather than the fact that it is based on a feather-light comic strip by Reg Smythe that has long blessed the pages of the Daily Mirror. For the show emerges as something really rather charming, even whilst Capp remains thoroughly unreconstructed.
A workshy native of Hartlepool, where he’s managed over 30 years without a job, Capp chooses instead to rely on wife Flo’s earnings for his considerable beer money, lavishing more attention on his racing pigeons than her. With illustrated stories that are generally just three panels long, Trevor Peacock’s book thus has to open out the story to the friends and neighbours around them, counterpointing a flashpoint of marital strife with the forthcoming nuptials of Capp’s nephew Elvis and the lovely Raquel. And this it does well.
The cartoonish nature of the working class stereotypes are never too disrespectful in Jake Smith’s production and are actually sweetly drawn. The romance between Tom Pepper’s hapless Elvis Horsepole and Tori Hargreaves’ Raquel Scrimmett is quietly affecting, David Muscat’s itinerant Geordie is a strong, steadying presence and there’s huge fun in Raquel’s parents’ breakout numbers – Paddy Navin’s redoubtable battleaxe hilariously blasting through the shortcomings of men in ‘O Gawd, Men…Beasts!’ and the cost of a wedding in ‘Goin’ to Barcelona’ and the previously timidly silent Terence Frisch makes the most of his moment in ‘Mr Scrimmett’s Song’.
Roger Alborough has the tougher job of trying to make a lovable rogue out of Andy, which he – rightly – just can’t do but he does enough to soften the edges and suggest something that Lynn Robertson Hay’s beleaguered Flo might still be clinging onto. But ultimately, it’s a show that never takes itself too seriously and one is tempted to suggest that audiences ought to do the same. Smith keeps the ensemble work moving amazingly well given the limited space and Chris Cuming’s expertly-pitched choreography and musical director Tim Shaw keeps the music hall flavour of Alan Price’s score alive and well with the help of a versatile actor-musician or three. As per the Finborough’s remit, a real celebration of British musical theatre.