Wimbledon Theatre

Wimbledon Theatre’s showcase for the new musical That’s Showbiz was the culmination of Jimmy Perry’s 20 year dream project. With original melodies by musical director Roy Moore, Perry’s book and lyrics tell the tale of comic Ted King’s (Ted Rogers) progress through northern touring, to war time stardom in the West End. But this is soon followed by Elstree disaster, nude revue, the game show treadmill on ITV - and a sudden white-tie engagement with the angels up in heaven.

Real-life names from the past regularly crop up, including showbiz hack Hannen Swaffer, eternal boy Wee Georgie Wood, film director Herbert Wilcox and variety impressario Val Parnell. But the show’s hero Ted is a fictional amalgam of all those struggling comics who died of drink and a dicky heart.

Comparisons with the recent Sid Field bio-play are inevitable, echoed in Carmen Silvera’s scenes as Ted’s ambitious, wisecracking mum Kate. But where David Suchet had Field’s famous comedy routines, Rogers was too often sidelined as the narrator, with only well-worn gags and one-line sketches to round out his comic pedigree. But happily he and his co-star Peter Baldwin (lately of Coronation Street fame), in great form playing Ted’s feed and would-be lover Charlie Draper, opened after the interval with a sophisticated drinking duo, setting the tone for a more balanced, upbeat second half.

Likewise the versatile Bryan Burdon and Freddie Davies as Kenny and Bernie, two halves of a double act, literally came into their own when their lines unravelled and they could fall back on ribbing and improvisation. Among several new faces Simona Morecraft twinkled brightly in several roles. But the revelation of the evening was Su Pollard, electrifying as Ted’s faithful sweetheart Pam, proving she can carry an emotional song - as well as the show - with the warmth and vocal power for big musical stardom.

John Thaxter

The Stage
November 1997