Theatre Review, Sweet Charity, Donmar Warehouse

at the Donmar Warehouse, London;
Credit : Johan Persson /

SWEET CHARITY ; at the Donmar Warehouse, London; Credit : Johan Persson / - Credit: Archant

Anne-Marie Duff’s raw and honest performance anchors a biting take on the resilience of a group of dancers for hire in Josie Rourke’s inventive swansong at the Donmar

It may be surprising that Josie Rourke has chosen a musical as her swansong at the Donmar, but surely she’s entitled to blow the budget and have fun?

In fact her spirited, acerbic take on Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ 1966 story of a ditzy but ever hopeful New York dancer for hire, is as much bitter as sweet.

Beneath the silvery sheen of Bob James’ set - inspired by Warhol’s Factory - is the infernally seedy bump and grind of the Fandango Ballroom, where Charity and her colleagues strut for groping punters.

The paper-thin plot sees Duff’s open-hearted Charity traverse a series of romantic disasters, from being robbed and pushed into Central Park’s lake, to getting stuck in a lift or a Coney Island fairground ride with Arthur Darvill’s geeky Oscar - a more affecting tryst that’s doomed by his puritannical inability to forget all the other men.

Apart from an ecstatic number when hippy preacher Daddy Brubeck (on our night a full-throated Adrian Lester but rotating throughout the run) exhorts his congregation to embrace The Rhythm of Life (with the help of a large spliff), and a nightclub scene where Warhol-wigged denizens Frug away in sixties style, there’s none of the uplifting glitzy delight of your usual musical theatre show.

In place of Bob Fosse’s slick choreography, Rourke and Wayne McGregor supply an idiosyncratic hymn to the irrepressible female spirit in the face of exploitation and sexism.

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Duff’s gravelly voice occasionally wanders off key, but delivers emotion in spades.

Her Charity isn’t the best dancer at the Fandango, but her mile-wide smile will break your heart as she delights in being invited back to a film star’s apartment (If My Friends Could See Me Now) or sings of hope and happiness in There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.

She’s ably supported by a pleasingly diverse cast of fellow dancers, who turn the brassy Hey Big Spender into an unsexy expression of resentment and resistence.

A set of Brillo pad packing crates stacked like Russian dolls becomes a sad lament to hopes of suburban respectability in Baby Dream Your Dream.

There are Rourke’s endless inventive touches throughout, but the night is anchored by Duff’s raw, honest and touching performance.