Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Stalking John Barrowman

, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff , September 1, 2013
Stalking John Barrowman by  The fact that every performance of this show not only sold out but received a standing ovation says it all. This collaboration between writers Naomi Chiffi and Jude Garner with composer and lyricist Patrick Steed is that rare thing, a new work that is an instant success by being the complete package. The show is funny and charming, clever and a little saucy, feel-good and popular: a bit like that Torchwood star who the plot revolves around and who we are told by the writers has given the project a big thumbs up.

The story line is a double love story involving a gay man Jamie and straight girl Julie (think the TV series Will and Grace), thrown together as they stalk (in the lightest, most non-threatening way) John Barrowman around Cardiff, but also search for love. The central characters are beautifully and wittily acted by Simon Bulley and Mari Izzard and, importantly, they are fine musical theatre singers.

Their story involves hilarious encounters as they and other Barrowman fans keep dashing around, just missing him in a coffee shop, or leaving a theatre’s stage door. They both have frustrating jobs so set up together as detectives: turning their investigative talents into a career (albeit dominated by searching for lost cats) while they pursue their main quest, Stalking John Barrowman.

The show is narrated by a wonderful trio of singers, the J-Belles, (Kate Powell, Hannah Rix and Chelsea Taylor-Day), who appear as the drama unfolds, dressed like 40s sirens, shimmying their way through the increasingly zany and wild plot.

The music is an eclectic mixture of heartfelt ballads, big ensemble numbers (one highlight being a glorious number explaining onomatopoeia), and jazz hands jollity with that touch of razzmatazz glamour from the J-Belles.

The young, obviously talented and committed cast is strong and take on a number of roles so hats off to Hannah Brunt, Diane Seaborne, Aled Wyn Thomas, Nico Morrison, Dion Lloyd Jones and Jason Marc-Williams who tackle roles as diverse as a tarty office femme fatale, Torchwood location directors, and, without spoiling the plot, Jamie and Julie’s reality love interest. It is rare to see a stage packed with so much talent and energy putting rather a few well-funded touring big musicals to shame.

Director David Evans with his choreographer Andy Burnett have in a remarkably short rehearsal period that was available for this new work excelled and the smile never left my face from the moment the show opened to its hand-clapping conclusion, with its toe-tapping, immediately accessible music by Patrick Steed and small band of musicians on stage.

The show has enough reality (how dull it can be on a TV set, the ambitions of extras, the odd lengths fans will go to see their stars) to not just be a jolly romp, although indeed it is, but to have a footing in what really does go on in the world of celebrity-infected society and the rather less glamorous side of TV and film production. Of course, this is a lovely, warm show which delights its audiences and not some heavy take on the stalker culture and its dangers – that is for another time and another place. Here the musical is a romantic whirl although with a few jones and scenes that are a bit on the spicy side (I have gone right off wine gums but I won’t spoil that scene).

While set in and around Cardiff, where Torchwood was filmed, with plenty of references to places a local audience will know, and there are bits of specific Welsh humour, I do not doubt for a second that the musical will be adored by audiences wherever it is played. What could be fun, for example, is to include a map of John Barrowman map of the Cardiff region showing where the locations are in the plot, or maybe just on the stage, to guide us as we follow our loveable stalkers on their mission.

Certainly, any venue looking for a great show that will have audiences clamouring for more should book Stalking John Barrowman, and any of our funders should be getting behind this team to ensure the musical gains the widespread success it deserves.

Who knows? You might find yourself sitting next to John Barrowman one evening. I guarantee the song and dance man will love it.

Reviewed by: Mike Smith

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