The Donmar Warehouse is transformed into a swinging 60’s silver sci-fi dream in Josie Rourke’s revival of Sweet Charity, with a score by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and book by Neil Simon.
Easily the highlight of the show is Robert Jones’ set design – it is chic, fun and visually exciting, at times featuring a silver swing, a huge ball-pit and neon psychedelics.
Sweet Charity follows dance hall hostess, Charity Valentine, a hopeless romantic with a generous heart, who “runs her heart like a hotel […] men checking in and out all the time.” Anne-Marie Duff plays Charity with a unique quirkiness and optimism – she’s scatty, yet lovable. Duff’s voice has a raspiness to it, which occasionally struggles with the score. While she isn’t the most precise dancer, she is undoubtedly endearing and resilient, bringing across Charity’s kind, yet strong persona perfectly. Her rendition of If My Friends Could See Me Now, is pure fun and silliness and a wonderful moment of character development in the first act.
Easily the most famous song from the show, Big Spender is performed with gusto and powerhouse vocals that fill the dance hall set. The ensemble are vocally strong and diverse, with stand-outs including Lizzie Connolly as Nickie, and Debbie Kurup as Helene. There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This features them alongside Duff, and is a stand-out performance showing off their vocal ability and the characters’ strong-willed determination to leave this life behind them. The reprise of this song in the final few minutes is not a disappointment, sending shivers up the spine that last well after the curtain closes.
Bob Fosse’s original choreography looms large over this new production, and while Wayne McGregor’s modern take is laudable, the results are, more often that not, lacklustre.
Arthur Darvill plays Charity’s love interest, Oscar, a charmingly shy, tax accountant. Darvill adds wit and perfect comic timing; both him and Duff together make a sweet comedy duo. Ultimately though, it’s Duff’s energy and radiating joy that makes this production so lively.
While some of the original jokes from the 1966 script still get big laughs, some of the content feels problematic in its pre-feminist writing. Sweet Charity often promotes views of purity and repeatedly tells its female characters that they’ll only thrive if they rely on the men around them – something that struggles to stand up in twenty-first century West-End. That said, Rourke’s production is vibrant, diverse and chock-full of incredible vocal talent.