Review: Pins and Needles, Cock Tavern Theatre, Saturday 27 November 2010

 

Originally written for The Public Reviews.

What better way to change the world than through the power of song and dance? Pins and Needles, in attempting to sing ‘a song with social significance’, brought tap dancing and jazz hands to political theatre in its record-breaking original Broadway run. Over 70 years after its conception this witty and intelligent musical revue is no less in tune with society, its Depression-era satire taking on new meaning as we are in the grip of recession and staring down the barrel of government spending cuts.

First created and performed by a labour union in 1937, this entertaining collection of musical skits and sketches has a timely British premiere at the Cock Tavern Theatre. Satire about 1930s American politics and society, far from appearing distant and outdated, is strikingly resonant with the world of today; its comments on right wing politics, big business and manipulative advertising remain current and biting. The Cock’s production has smartly updated the production with some small twists to make explicit the show’s relevance for today, with a certain well known politician making a hilarious appearance.

Director Rachel Grunwald has successfully adapted the piece to the intimate space, with the actors’ every movement carefully executed and economic, while choreographer Nicola Martin’s small scale dances prove surprisingly effective. The small and simple staging is apt, taking the show back to its amateur labour union roots and allowing the music and the sharp, witty lyrics to speak for themselves without being obscured by the kind of flashy theatrical extravaganza lampooned in the Federal Theatre Project sketch.

Grunwald’s ensemble cast breathe life into Harold Rome’s sparkling lyrics and perform the various sketches with vigour, enthusiasm and comic skill. Among the most effective skits are those targeting the exploitative world of advertising, simultaneously succeeding both as hysterical musical numbers and as disturbingly accurate indictments of our image-obsessed society. The hilarious Matthew Rutherford, Adam Walker and Mark Gillon have us in stitches prancing around as the devils of advertising, while the insecurities of cowering Elizabeth Pruett and Elain Lloyd’s lament that ‘nobody makes a pass at me’ reveal uncomfortable truths about the way in which the media makes us view ourselves.

In the tiny Cock Tavern Theatre there is nowhere to hide and the cast do well in overcoming the challenges posed by such a space. Their performances are infused with humour and wit throughout, although there are a few vocal weak links that cannot be covered up in such an intimate setting. Pruett and Lloyd stand out in particular with some stunning solos and Walker steals the Four Little Angels sketch with a brilliant turn as a hilariously camp Hitler. Some of the more forgettable songs fade away beside uproarious numbers such as ‘Sitting on Your Status Quo’, but the diverse range of sketches are neatly pulled together by the final song, with a clever added tweak that highlights once more for us the significance of its political jibes. Managing to be both entertaining and politically on-the-button, Pins and Needles is an ideal musical for current times.


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