Kiss-kiss, bang-bang! “Bonnie and Clyde”, a beloved musical that took West End by storm in 2022, is such a bloody, violent, but still feel-good show somehow. Festoon Theatre’s production of this fan favourite delivers multiple bangs – some of them deadly – and creates an overall fabulous night, just as fun as the West End version.
“Bonnie and Clyde” is one of the musicals with a score that makes you nod your head and stomp your feet. A 9-piece band on the stage balcony in Bridewell Theatre delivers this country-gospel, tune-filled score by Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Don Black as we follow the story of star-crossed, infamous lovers.
We meet them as children, when Bonnie, saddened by her father’s death, dreams of becoming an actress and a celebrity, while Clyde… just fully enjoys playing with a gun, shooting chickens, and plans to become a famous outlaw. As the duo connects and falls in love with each other, we follow their journey through jail escape, robbing banks and stores, and even killing people while becoming celebrities in the process. At the same time, we get to know Clyde’s brother – Buck, and his God-fearing wife Blanche. The fates of both couples eventually intertwine as we slowly roll towards the inevitable bitter end…
Georgia Blessitt (Bonnie) is an absolute firecracker on stage. Her Bonnie is a true diva, and a girl with a huge dream. She almost blew the roof off Bridewell Theatre during “Dyin’ ain’t so bad” in the second act of the show, and impressed me with her delicate, yet powerful interpretation of “How ’bout a dance”.
I was so happy to experience Inti Conde’s interpretation of Clyde! I loved that he was so different from the other productions, I felt like his Clyde was much more rough and evil than what I was expecting. He has put a lot of focus on the experience of a jail sentence, being beaten up and despised by the police and guards, and showcased a painful, realistic journey from a happy-go-lucky thief into an egomaniacal man. His only soft side, revealed rarely, is Bonnie and his brother Buck, but even in those moments he still feels pretty much focused on himself. He lands the powerful numbers well and leaves a scary yet impressive impression.
Sanchez Colliwood-Simpson shines in his debut performance as Buck, and provides tons of charisma, while Nicole Vassel (Blanche) adds the comedic factor and shines during the “You’re goin’ back to jail”. My standout performance of the night has to be Charles Ray King JR.’s interpretation of the Preacher. His church appearances are full of soul and power – I could feel the whole audience getting into the beat during his performances of “God’s arms are always open” and “Made in America”. His gospel roar energised the entire show and sent shivers down the spine.
The Bridewell Theatre stage seemed massive during this performance – mostly because of the ingenious use of space at different heights of it – there was a diner set up on the ground floor, followed by the picnic area and jail slightly higher, and then the famous bathtub on a separate elevation on the side. All these were covered in American flags and wooden window blinds everywhere, altogether creating a realistic vibe of the Great Depression era in America. The creative use of props, like car lights that turn into an old-school camera, added to the overall sleek impression of the work the creative team has done here.
The one issue I’ve always had with this musical was its ethical side – the glorification of thieves and murderers, as their story got fully commercialised and aimed to create empathy. But as I red the programme for the night, I became more and more impressed by Festoon Theatre’s approach to the show, and its mission, which balanced my uncertainties and turned the experience into a fully positive one. The company aims to engage a diverse and non-traditional cast, with a majority of people of colour cast in every show. They also promote a “Donate a Ticket” campaign, which gives opportunities to those who would normally not be able to afford the luxury of coming to a theatre show. I must say, I was impressed! The work done by Festoon Theatre to support the artistic and local community made me forget about my issues with the core of the show for a while, that’s for sure.
“Bonnie and Clyde” by Festoon Theatre is a spectacular, fun show that makes you fully immerse yourself in the classic story. Bonnie and Clyde might steal your hearts, but well- that’s what they do best, all in all!
Written by: Ivan Menchell, Don Black and Frank Wildhorn
Presented by: Festoon Theatre Company
Bridewell Theatre, 28 Sept – 2 Oct 2022