Hartlepool born and bred working class anti-hero Andy Capp has been running shy of getting a job in the Daily Mirror since 1957, and I can easily remember reading some of the daily comic strips when I was a lad. As Andy, Flo, et al got more famous, they were brought to life on the stage and thus, Andy Capp The Musical was born in the early 1980s. Thirty years on and the show is back in London at the Finborough Theatre.
In the town of Hartlepool, young Geordie (David Muscat) has returned home to find work. Geordie is a piano player and is looking for a pub that will employ his talents to entertain the punters. He has heard that the best person to speak to is a man that is familiar with all of the pubs in the town, Mr Andy Capp (Roger Alborough). Unfortunately Andy is one of those chaps that doesn’t really do daytime. While his long suffering wife Flo (Lynn Robertson Hay) is out working, Andy is more likely to be busy in the garden looking after his racing pigeons or having a lie-down to refresh himself after his ‘exertions’. However, Andy is a man of regular habits and can be found in the pub within moments of it opening. Safely ensconced in his watering hole, Andy, gets Geordie a job before reminding best mate Chalkie (Todd James) and everyone else to back his world-beating racing pigeon in its next race. Two other people are looking for Andy this evening. The first is rent collector Percy (Jon-Paul Rowden) who is hoping that he can somehow persuade Andy to pay some of his back rent, and the second is Andy’s nephew, the wonderfully named Elvis Horsepole (Tom Pepper). Elvis has fantastic news, he is getting married to, Raquel (Tori Hargreaves), daughter of local ‘bigwigs, Mr and Mrs Scrimmett (Terence Frisch and Paddy Navin) – a sort of Hyacinth and Richard Bucket of the neighbourhood. A wedding, new clothes, and a famous pigeon race, the stage is now set for probably the most hectic fortnight in Andy’s life so far.
What to say about Andy Capp The Musical? With a book by Trevor Peacock, lyrics by Alan Price and the whole original show overseen by Andy Capp creator Reg Smythe, this is a show with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, for me, I don’t think it really worked.If this had just been a musical about a group of working class type people from a particular area, then it might have been OK, but and remembering I used to read the strip a lot, none of the characters were quite right. Andy talked too much – I always had him down as very taciturn saying the bare minimum to get his point across – and his cap was too high, meaning you could always see Roger Alborough’s facial expressions, and get an idea of what the character was thinking, something you could never do with the ‘real’ Andy.
Similarly, Andy and Chalkie’s relationship was barely acknowledged and yet the two of them are meant to be very close friends. This is partially down to the the introduction of Elvis – who doesn’t appear in the cartoon strip – which diluted Andy’s relationship with Chalkie in the same way that Raquel diluted Flo’s friendship with Ruby. There is also the issue that Andy is a very difficult character to love, or even like.Similarly, Andy and Chalkie’s relationship was barely acknowledged and yet the two of them are meant to be very close friends. This is partially down to the the introduction of Elvis – who doesn’t appear in the cartoon strip – which diluted Andy’s relationship with Chalkie in the same way that Raquel diluted Flo’s friendship with Ruby. There is also the issue that Andy is a very difficult character to love, or even like. As a kid I never understood why Flo stayed with him and in these days of political correctness, it is quite shocking to hear some of the thoughts that Andy and his friends articulate about their relationships with the ladies in their lives.
My other major criticism of the show is that I found it a bit predictable. Although the ending to Act 1 was shocking – causing audible gasps from some in the audience – it had been coming for a while and was not that much of a surprise when it happened. Similarly, the second act contained a major surprise – that wasn’t and a set-up around stag and hen nights that was the most illogical thing ever.
So, I’ve said what I wasn’t keen on in the show, what did I like? Well quite a bit actually. There were a couple of real stand out songs including the real feel-good “Good Evening” and my absolute favourite of the night “Good Old Legs” which Roger Alborough and Todd James delivered beautifully. “Frozen Moments” at the end of Act I was again a real knock-out number and credit to both David Muscat and Lynn Robertson Hay who gave it their all and really drew me into the heart of the song as I sat their dabbing my eyes. The creative team behind Andy Capp – The Musical have really done a fantastic job in not only getting a fair sized set in such a small space but managing to get thirteen actors moving and dancing round it without hitting each other or falling into the audience. I also want to mention Richard and Lynn who, as Andy and Flo, had a real chemistry together even when they argued and Lynn has to be given a special mention for her wonderful performance at the end of Act 1. The rest of the cast – some of whom were also the band under Musical Director Tim Shaw – really gave it their all and on the whole seemed to be enjoying themselves as they portrayed their various roles.
To Sum up then, Andy Capp The Musical has a lot of good points going for it as a show. For me it didn’t fully work but I think this is due more to my interpretation of the characters than any major failings of the show itself, which is a pretty good old fashioned British musical of the sort that – if they had a win at the bingo – Flo and Ruby would love to go and see on a Saturday night while the boys were playing snooker and getting bevied up.
Review by Terry Eastham
The first professional UK production for more than 30 years.
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In a production commissioned by the Finborough Theatre, the first professional UK production in more than 30 years of Andy Capp The Musical by Alan Price and Trevor Peacock.
As Reg Smythe’s long-running Daily Mirror comic strip prepares to celebrate its 60th year, join loveable rogue Andy Capp and the colourful characters from his North East town in this hilarious and poignant British musical.
Work-shy Andy squanders his rent money on beer and stumbles home late again. His long suffering missus Flo vows to leave him, but Andy promises his racing pigeons will one day make them a fortune.
A few doors down, innocent young lovers Elvis and Raquel plan their wedding, but will their lives turn out just like Andy and Flo? Not if Raquel’s mother, Mrs Scrimmett, has anything to do with it…
With Alan Price’s bouncy rhythms and Trevor Peacock’s razor sharp lyrics, this rediscovered British musical is a warm-hearted look at relationships and the simple pleasures in overcoming life’s obstacles – guaranteed to stamp a smile on your face.
Andy Capp The Musical premiered in 1982 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, and then transferred to the West End, where it was nominated for the Olivier Award for Musical of the Year. Tom Courtenay starred as Andy and Alan Price, the show’s composer and former keyboardist for the popular band The Animals, played the role of Geordie.