Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Miss Atomic Bomb; Easter 1916

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Miss Atomic Bomb; Easter 1916

Article excerpt

Miss Atomic Bomb celebrates the sub-culture that grew up around nuclear tests in 1950s America. The citizens of Nevada would throw parties and stage barbecues to coincide with the latest nuclear detonation in the desert. This musical has a lot going for it. The melodies are strong, and well sung. The high-kicking chorus lines are easy on the eye and the show has a zippy, innocent spirit. But the storyline gets sidetracked in a mass of contradictory directions. The main theme follows a homesick farm girl who becomes involved with a runaway soldier whose brother runs a Vegas nightclub where a beauty contest is being held that the farm girl hopes to win. Other meandering subplots concern a hunt for a spy, a gang of psychotic mobsters and the disappearance of a stand-up comic whose hair keeps falling out.

The show's star, Catherine Tate, has taken a minor role that conspicuously fails to capitalise on her gifts. Tate is a virtuoso caricaturist who specialises in distortions of accent, speech and costume. She can do anything from a lesbian countess to a homeless Rada graduate or a Nobel prize-winning Scouser. But her inspiration is Britain and the teeming plenitude of our social layers and disparate regions. Her character here is a generic American redhead with a silly name, Myrna Ranapapadophilou, and a twangy Southern accent.

Myrna's motives are ironically light-hearted. She's a dressmaker hired by the army to adorn human dummies used in the nuclear tests. And she has a fake romance with a gay hotelier which turns into a marriage of convenience. These details may be glibly amusing but they're fatal to the show because they overlook the essence of musical theatre. Great musicals acquire their potency by inviting play-goers to commit themselves, at some deep and unspoken level, to the destiny of their characters. But Myrna is just a winking, sugary dollybird with no emotional sincerity and no mission to fulfil. She's less a figure in a musical than an idea in the mind of a parodist. And if the writers can't take the characters seriously how can anybody else?

The casting of a British star in a show with a strong American flavour suggests a yearning for a West End transfer in the summer. But there's a snag. The show derives much of its macabre humour from jokes about mushroom clouds and radiation sickness. …

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