Musicals can be about absolutely anything. We’ve had musicals about Argentinian dictator’s wives, man eating plants, even a musical about a fairground barker who dies but wants to come back to earth. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a musical based around a football fanzine before. Until now. Until I saw Stand and Deliver! at The King’s Head in Islington. Yes, it’s a musical about a man’s obsession with Enfield Football Club.
Frank Goldenboy is a regular guy bringing up his daughter Paris and his adopted son Antwerp by himself. While cleaning up his garage, they come across a box containing memories from the 80s; albums, dirty magazines and a football fanzine called Naughty Sport, devoted to Enfield Football Club. Accidentally hit by the box, Frank becomes delusional and is transported back in time to when his beloved club almost became the giant killers of the 1980/81 FA Cup. He has to face the possibility of the club being sold by the evil Penny Flats and with the help of Boscombe Chart, the legendary player for the team, Frank gets the opportunity to live his life as his personal hero, Dick Turpin.
I know what you are thinking, it sounds utterly bonkers. That is because…it is. Written and produced by Wayne Gumble, the man responsible for creating the real Naughty Sport fanzine magazine, has taken his passion and created a madcap comedy littered with 80s classics like We Close Our Eyes, It Must Be Love and, of course, Stand and Deliver. The show does borrow from the likes of Airplane and the Carry On films but it works in its favour. It never once takes itself seriously and often breaks the fourth wall, making this more like an adult pantomime but without the fairy tale element.
Mixing a blend of comedy style, Mr Gumble’s script is an absolute blast, a concoction of satire, innuendo, self-mocking and just plain silliness. The jokes come thick and fast, ranging from pop culture references to gags worse than you would find in a Christmas cracker. Some will have you groaning, others will get you belly laughing and while the story goes flying off in all directions, one moment in the garage, then at Enfield’s game, then in an Inn in the 1700s, it is brimming with invention.
Capably directed by Amy Gunn, she has managed to keep the pace moving while giving the audience plenty to watch, a hard task considering the size of the stage. I particularly liked the scene in which the chorus enter with tree branches and create a Scooby-Doo type effect as Frank, now the Dandy Highwayman, is being chased his prey. Interspersed and acting, in a way, as narrators to the madness, are TV commentators Ulrika Pearce and Mmbop !Hansen (See? Told you some of the jokes will make you groan). Set slightly above and away from the action, they are the consistent link to the action and this works well, allowing them to keep things on track. Choreography by Tracy Peacock and Charlotte Bilsby is simple but works well, especially in the I’ve Had The Time Of My Life routine, which is both surprising and very funny.
The cast, while some are a little rough around the edges, do have one thing in common. They exude energy and it’s infectious. Some do struggle with the acting while others have slight pitching problems but this can be forgiven as they throw themselves wholeheartedly into their performances and you can’t help but smile.
As Frank, Nigel Barker comes across as your typical, ordinary bloke who likes football and highwaymen (?) This is a savvy piece of casting as he isn’t the greatest singer nor the greatest mover but you fully believe him as this “geezer”. If you were to walk into a pub, you would see dozens of Franks and Mr Barker captures him brilliantly. Not knowing his left foot from his right while attacking the simple choreography, it would be wrong to cast an actor who spoke as a North Londoner but sang like Pavarotti and danced like Wayne Sleep. It works.
Kara Lily Hayworth as Frank’s fesity daughter, Paris, does a good job with the role and then she sings and her voice is utterly enchanting. She even had the good sense of pulling the cast together when the nerves kicked in or when they couldn’t quite hear the musical notes. Not an easy thing to do sometimes but she did it magnificently. Christine Corser does a very good job as the evil Penny Flats, speaking in rhyme and sporting a Dr Evil-style laugh while Leigh Stevenson, who joined the company late, handles the role of Mmbop with aplomb.
For me, the stand-out performances were Terema Wainwright as Ulrika, with her natural sense of comic timing and strong, delightful singing voice and Simon Lindon as Boscombe. Here is a man who came on, grabbed the audiences’ attention and never let go throughout. He commanded every scene he was in and got some of the biggest laughs. A terrific and very funny performance.
It’s not perfect by any sense. The singing is sometimes drowned out by the three-piece band and a few of the cast looked genuinely scared but this is the opening night and I am certain that once the nerves have settled down, this will make the show even better.
I really enjoyed this lunacy and so did the small but enthusiastic audience who were there. At 80 minutes, it never outstays its welcome and zips along effortlessly. If you are wondering what to do over the next few days through Christmas, then pop down to Islington and see this very likeable romp. It will bring just the right amount of Christmas cheer.
Stand And Deliver! runs at the King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street, Islington from 20th to 29th December at 10pm. Tickets are £12.