The European premiere of the off-broadway hit Pete ‘n’ Keely is now open at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Katie Kerr (Little Shop of Horrors, Menier Chocolate Factory; Fat Pig, Comedy Theatre; Sweeney Todd, English National Opera) and David Bardsley (Titanic, Charing Cross Theatre; Guys and Dolls, National Theatre; The Fix, Donmar Warehouse) star in this award-winning musical, which features (somewhat unrecognisable to the 22 year old) renditions of the era’s favourite numbers. That could be true, or it could just be an individuals eclectic mix of favourites from the era, I really have no idea.
Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens are performing live on national television. Sounds exciting, but they haven’t spoken to each other for five years. They decide to try to style it out and relive the hits that nostalgically remind them of where they’ve ended up – divorced. It goes badly. It goes even more badly. Keely storms out of the television studio with a glass of what must be assumed to be vodka. Then, spoiler alert, in a poof of metaphorical smoke, they all live happily ever after.
James Hindman’s book has little substance. It’s essentially about a marriage that is no more. There are two conflicting sides to each of the tales, unsurprisingly. It is resolved almost immediately in the closing minutes and to be honest, I wanted to see how on earth they were going to reconcile the fact that they had hated each other for the last hour and a half, let alone the last five years.
Patrick Brady’s Music isn’t boring in itself by any means but lacks variety. I only really remember ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ and if my brain archives are correct, I think that’s because it has something to do with Musical Theatre. A lot of the music sounded very similar and involved the pair trying to take the stage from each other at every available opportunity. I have to say I was relieved when Pete announced that they would perform the song that would close ‘act one of their life story’.
Director Matthew Gould (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Arts Theatre; The Glass Protégé, The Park Theatre; I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road, Jermyn Street Theatre) comments;
“From the moment I was introduced to Pete ‘n’ Keely last year all my childhood memories of illicitly watching American comedy sketch on my tiny black and white TV in my bedroom came flooding back. Memories that were in black and white but now will be realised in full bodied 60s colour as we embrace the joy, laughter and sheer bloody talent of Pete and Keely as they reunite for one final TV spectacular.”
Kerr and Bardsley work with what they’re given. There are definitely notes beyond their range, which is to say, notes that they near enough didn’t sing, but that is by no means the biggest problem that this production has. There are also elements which they do wonderfully and they would have to do something really outrageous to carry the production themselves. There are moments which Kerr makes hilarious just with her eyebrows, but the piece isn’t as funny as I fear it was supposed to be, in my opinion. Keely could, as she pointed out to Pete, sing circles around him – and there were more than a couple of occasions on which I actually really enjoyed just listening to her voice, if I could manage not to be too distracted by the giant coloured circles which surrounded them.
Maybe I didn’t get it because I’m not american. Maybe I didn’t get it because I don’t remember the swinging 60s. Maybe I didn’t get it because on the whole, I didn’t recognise the music. Or maybe it was actually not that great. The older people in the audience with all due respect, did seem to find it amusing in places that I just could not fathom what was funny. That said, the couple next to me left at the interval, and I ended up thinking about how to apply for my final year of student finance. Either way, click here for tickets if you’re american, over 40, or want to chance it.
Pete n Keely runs until 20th May at the Tristan Bates Theatre
Images courtesy of The Other Richard.