Theatre review: The Blonde Bombshells of 1943 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate

Blonde Bombshell

Blonde Bombshell - Credit: Archant

If music be the food of love, then musical theatre is a feast of happiness and The Blonde Bombshells is a banquet of delight.

Author Alan Plater went back to the past to produce this entertaining take on Ivy Benson and her all-girl band (one of the hit turns of the Second World War). The wartime songs, the sound of bombs and the air raid sirens set the atmosphere perfectly.

This eight-strong girls’ band is led by Betty and comprises May on the piano, Grace on double bass and Vera on trumpet. Unfortunately, the other four members have fallen for the GIs who have infiltrated the country with their endless supply of nylon stockings. So replacements are needed for an important gig in an anonymous northern town (which turns out to be in Hull – the author’s home town).

We enter the story as the auditions take place. It is a strange assortment of hopefuls – schoolgirl Liz, Lily, a nun, posh girl Miranda and, finally, Pat, who is a surprise to all – a splendid drummer – but he is the wrong gender. Pat is played by Josh Haberfield – looking great in his frilly pink frock and blonde curly wig. But the effect is somewhat ruined by the unmistakably masculine socks and shoes, fortunately hidden behind his drum kit.

Katie Arnstein is the ever-smiling nun who plays the ukulele and sings rude songs. Lauren Storer is the idiotic posh girl who can, nevertheless, raise a storm on the tenor sax and Emma Jane Morton plays the schoolgirl who is also a virtuoso. Louisa Beadel as Betty is the best of them all.

But they are all fabulous musicians, singers and comedy actors, with Eloise Kay as piano-playing May, and Giovanna Ryan and Ashley Stirling as Grace and Vera.

This is a stunning show with an unusually talented cast and directed with style so evocative of the period by John Plews.

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Until June 29.