Stuart King

Review: FRANK’S CLOSET at Union Theatre

The Union Theatre, Sasha Regan’s powerhouse south London fringe venue, continues to churn-out season after season of work, usually a blend of classics, revamped musicals and productions which sometimes do their best to defy labelling. These are often achieved with minimal budgets, grit, determination and a great deal of goodwill, enthusiasm and energy from the creative teams. Long may the venue continue to draw-in audiences.

Frank's Closet at Union TheatreFrank's Closet at The Union Theatre

Stuart Wood’s book, music and lyrics for FRANK’S CLOSET owe perhaps a little too much to his time spent scoring TV commercials to ever trouble the likes of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, but with a little funding assistance from both friends and Arts Council England back in 2009, he managed to stage two runs of the show at Hoxton Hall. 15 years on and it embarks on its latest outing in front of an audience under the Union’s arches with television actor Andy Moss playing Frank, a man who has decided his life would benefit from a bit of a decluttering.

Over the years, Frank’s obsession with various noteworthy divas has resulted in the accumulation of a collection of costumes - some given, most acquired at auctions and others perhaps obtained by nefarious means. Now, (for reasons which aren’t entirely clear but may involve wedding bells and his boyfriend, (a female impersonator known simply as The Diva) he has decided to donate the 7 items — worn previously by Marie Lloyd, Julie Andrews, Ethel Merman, Karen Carpenter, Judy Garland, Agnetha Fältskog and Dusty Springfield — to the V&A Museum.

Of course it would be a missed opportunity of truly biblical proportions if in the process of clearing-out, The Diva played by Luke Farrugia didn’t don each garment one last time and belt out a number akin to something which each of those very notable women might have delivered. The efforts are supplemented and adorned by 4 dizzyingly different Gaiety Girls (Oliver Bradley-Taylor, Sarah Freer, Olivia McBride and Jack Rose, together with frequent on stage appearances by Paul Toulson’s alter ego Sheila Blige). Sam Balchin and Peter Crocker help accompany the troupe with Trumpet and Trombone respectively, under Anto Buckley’s guidance from the keyboard.

The production is a camp and rather frivolous piece of harmless fun, which is at its best when the team resist the temptation to imbue proceedings with too much soul-searching. And finally, just as suggestion: in this era when singers are encouraged to end a phrase on a dramatic belt-note, perhaps the writing would benefit from slightly greater variety in pitching of those final (belted) notes.