REVIEW: Carnaby Street at Milton Keynes Theatre

Carnaby StreetCarnaby Street
Carnaby Street
The 60-something-year-olds jiving away in the front row, screaming for Jonny Bower as if he were Paul McCartney, and doing the twist like their lives depended on it, epitomised Carnaby Street The Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre last night.

Fun, fast and rocking, the show is packed with more than forty swinging sixties hits, peppered throughout the performance to perfectly complement the tale of two Scouse kids trying to make it in London.

Aaron Sidwell as Jack the lad narrates the show and keeps it grounded. His musings make it feel more like someone’s real memories and stops it becoming a clichéd rags-to-riches tale.

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Of course the show is based on someone’s real memories; those of music industry legend Carl Leighton Pope, who is currently the agent for stars including Michael Buble and Bryan Adams.

Sidwell expertly treads the line between fact and fiction and gives the entire production a genuine feel.

He also gives the audience some giggles, especially when paired with Gregory Clarke who plays Al, the newspaper boy.

Clarke delivers headlines from the 60s which are both a nice way to contextualise the action on stage, and an interesting comparison to modern life.

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The birth of The Sun newspaper and the price of a cup of coffee rising to 10p are just some of the headlines which get a laugh.

Although Jonny Bower is the official star of the show as pop sensation Jude, the rest of the talented cast certainly didn’t let him take all the glory.

Aimie Atkinson for one is absolutely incredible.

She plays Penny, a petite Scouser living in the shadow of fame-hungry friend Jude, who she just so happens to be madly in love with.

As she shuffles across the stage in her faded old jeans and tomboy top, lugging a couple of beaten-up rucksacks on her back, the audience are completely taken aback when she suddenly bursts into a sensational rendition of Go Now.

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She makes it look so effortless, which of course is the sign of a true talent.

Her acting is just as impressive, as she plays the part of Penny to perfection, adding real character to the role.

While the part of Jude, the Northern boy who just wants to be a rock star, feels a little two-dimensional, Penny is complex and convincing.

She deals with the heartache of unrequited love, finds herself living with a drug addict, undergoes a sensational sixties makeover, and manages to hint at love blossoming with Jack, subtly enough not to detract from the main story lines, but noticeably enough so that we are not surprised to see their romance bloom later in the show.

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Her rivalry with Lady Jane (Tricia Adele-Turner) never descends into pantomime cattiness, and the girls’ relationship develops in a very realistic and touching way.

Tackling all these threads to the plot while sounding amazing make Aimie the real Queen of Carnaby Street - sorry Lily!

Lily The Pink, the self-proclaimed Queen of Carnaby Street, a cross-dressing couturier whose wonderful wardrobe, wicked asides and facial expressions almost steal the show.

Played by Paul Hazel, Lily was fun, fabulous, and her musical numbers were flippin’ fantastic.

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From his debut number Bend Me, Shape Me, during which he shimmies around in a lime green suit, to Son Of A Preacher Man which had the entire audience beaming, he was sensational.

Modelling almost every look from the decade, his costumes alone were worth watching.

Carnaby Street was crammed full of so many larger-than-life characters it’s impossible to name-check every member of the wonderful cast, but Mark Pearce deserves a mention for his performance as T, the aforementioned drug addict.

His solo Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was heart wrenching and hard-hitting, and the only improvement would have been if his character and story line had been explored a little more, as the dark side of Carnaby Street was only hinted at.

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The cast were let down a little by some problems with sound throughout the show, but fortunately everyone was having so much fun most members of the audience probably didn’t notice.

The production finished with a special 60s megamix finale, which gave the entire cast a chance to let their hair down.

Once again, Aimie Atkinson stood out with her rendition of You Know You Make Me Wanna (Shout), but everyone put on a brilliant show which really did get the audience dancing in the aisles.

Well worth a watch, especially if you were lucky enough to live through the magical era yourself.

At Milton Keynes Theatre until September 7.