Chichester understudy proves the show must go on!

The company. Photo by Johan Persson
The company. Photo by Johan Persson

REVIEW: Me And My Girl, Chichester Festival Theatre, until August 25.

There was an understandable groan of disappointment when CFT artistic director Daniel Evans – also the director of the show – took to the stage at the start of the evening to explain that Matt Lucas had been advised to rest his voice and therefore would not be appearing.

By the end of the night, the entire audience was on its feet roaring its approval after a simply superb performance from Lucas’ understudy Ryan Pidgen. Absolutely word perfect and with terrific comic timing throughout, Pidgen brought the house down on the best CFT musical in years. Probably the best since Singin’ in the Rain and maybe even better.

It’s impossible not to feel huge sympathy for Matt Lucas – for Pidgen’s are now big shoes to step back into. His was a spirited, assured performance. Clearly CFT understudies are prepared to a high degree, but even so, Pidgen’s prowess was genuinely remarkable.

For the first 20 minutes, you found yourself willing him on, but it was soon evident he was a natural. Thereafter the only worry was that someone was going to step on the head of the musical director protruding from a curious triangular shaped hole at the front of the stage. Surely he’s going to have a footprint on his bonce before the end of the run.

Otherwise, it was simply a night to sit back and enjoy Daniel Evans’ greatest night at the CFT so far – a blissful, fantastically good spirited evening, slick but also fresh, huge on energy, beautifully choreographed and, maybe best of all, repeatedly very very funny indeed.

Pidgen stepped in as Bill, the Cockney lad who suddenly finds himself drawn into the utterly alien world of the aristocracy after it emerges he is the long lost heir to a title, a fortune and a country pile. All good except for the fact that the aristocrats want him to ditch the love of his life, Sally – beautifully played by Alex Young, seemingly completely unfazed to find herself opposite a rather different Bill to the one she’d been expecting.

Young injects real life into Sally, besotted with Bill but far more noble than the nobles, willing to stand aside, however much it breaks her heart, if that’s what it takes for Bill to realise that he has to fulfil his birth right.

But Sally is spirited too, as Young shows in a terrifically-catty spat with Siubhan Harrison, Lady Jacqueline.

Engineering Sally’s departure is Caroline Quentin as the Duchess, yet another great performance on a great night, perfectly balancing aristocratic disdain with the suggestion that there might be a heart in there after all.

Yes, she too has got her little love story – if only she and Sir John (the excellent Clive Rowe) would wake up to it.

Put it all together, and echoing last year’s big musical, Fiddler On The Roof, this is the night that the CFT’s main-house summer season finally gets into its stride.

My And My Girl has been a truly inspired choice – delivered with wit and imagination. Let’s hope Matt is back soon, but in the meantime Ryan really has shown in the bravest way that the show must go on… What a trooper.

See also: https://www.chichester.co.uk/whats-on/theatre-and-comedy/understudy-saves-the-day-after-little-britain-star-matt-lucas-forced-to-withdraw-from-cft-first-night-1-8561919