Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Ruthless! the Musical; Miss Nightingale

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Ruthless! the Musical; Miss Nightingale

Article excerpt

Ruthless! The Musical is a camp extravaganza about ambitious actors stranded in small-town America. Sylvia St Croix, a pushy agent, visits a super-talented 10-year-old, Tina, and persuades her to audition for Pippi Longstocking in a school play. Tina's mother fears that stardom may spoil her little girl but Tina is finished with childhood. 'Time to move on.'

The production feels like a zany Spike Milligan sketch with a garish set and over-the-top costumes. Sylvia is played by Justin Gardiner who swaggers about like a cross-dressing cowboy in a clingy frock and false breasts. The dialogue, which takes cheap shots at bourgeois morality, may not suit all tastes. Try this. Tina complains to Sylvia that she never sees her father. 'Why, yes you do,' blushes her mother, 'Daddy was here just six weeks ago.' 'Was that Daddy?' frowns Tina. 'I think so,' says her mother. For me, that's comedy gold. For you perhaps, it's dross. Good actors can find three laughs in that short exchange and the performers here get all three of them. The plot darkens when Tina gives a brilliant audition but fails to land the role of Pippi. Cast as the understudy, Tina murders her rival and becomes the show's star.

This morbid story-line is incredible, of course, but the show's cartoonish exuberance creates a fairy-tale atmosphere where anything seems possible. The child-on-child murder is balanced by an equally absurd back-story concerning Tina's mom, Judy, who was orphaned as a kid and wants to learn the identity of her biological mother. Her adoptive mom, Lita Encore, is a heavy-weight theatre critic whose venomous reviews have been known to drive performers to suicide. Could Judy be the daughter of a star who vanished after Lita rubbished her talent? The search for Judy's origins, and for the true identity of Sylvia St Croix, create a sequence of surprises that continues into the second half.

By now, we're in New York where Judy is living in a penthouse, having taken to the stage and become Broadway's latest musical sensation. Tina shows up, liberated from child-prison, and still determined to succeed. The second act develops into a riot of dramatic surprises and violent mayhem but its logic never departs from the narrative blueprint set out in the opening scene. Not everyone will relish this show's macabre humour, its tasteless gestures and its flouncy, self-parodic acting. I happen to have an appetite for broad, demonstrative and unsubtle comedy like this. …

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