Review: Carnaby Street @ New Wimbledon Theatre



The show runs until September 28.

By Immi Calderwood

Monday night’s ‘Carnaby Street’ audience was up on its feet and having a boogie by the end of this song and dance spectacular.

The production tells the story of Scousers Penny and Jude as they arrive in London for the first time, having hitchhiked away from home. Jude is a singer/songwriter hoping to find fame and fortune in the Big Smoke, while Penny is madly in love with him and would follow him anywhere. Although Jude has no idea.

Told retrospectively through the eyes of cheeky chap Jack, the show is based on the life of Carl Leighton-Pope, a music agent who has been in the business for over 40 years.

In 1964, however, Leighton-Pope was only starting out on his career, as an 18-year-old out-of-work actor working nights at the infamous Marquee Club on Wardour Street, round the corner from Carnaby Street.

In the 60’s Carnaby Street had attained the fashionable reputation it still holds today. It was a popular destination for both Mods and Hippies, with a number of independent boutiques springing up all along this very desirable strip.

It is this fashionable, ‘in-crowd’ atmosphere that Carnaby Street gets really right. The whole production oozes ‘cool’ and ‘desirable’, as well as the up-and-coming excitement that surrounded the street at the time.

As made evident by the title, the location is absolutely central to the whole show’s spirit: ‘Soho was called the ‘Square Mile’ and that’s where the 60’s really began,” said Leighton-Pope.

The enthusiasm and charisma of the production is tangible. It takes a lot to get a theatre full of the middle-aged former-flower children on its feet, but the bedazzling enjoyment of the whole cast is infectious.

Aimie Atkinson is sensational as timid Scouse girl Penny, awash in a world of mini-skirts and sequins, in a pair of beaten up jeans with a rucksack and sleeping mat. But a quick makeover and a change of attitude and she becomes the epitome of 60’s chic.

Atkinson makes a really excellent job of the transformation, stripping it of any cliché, and bringing out the complexity behind the character. The relationship between Penny and ‘wild thing’ T (Mark Pearce) is the show’s only attempt at tragedy, and without two such strong performers the glimpse of the darker side of the 60’s could have become lost amid the glitz.

Aaron Sidwell plays the Jack-the-lad at the centre of the show, looking fresh-faced and very dapper in his mod get-up. Sidwell is an excellent frontman for the show, striking up immediate rapport with the audience. His asides help blend the first half’s succession of songs together, to help give the slightly fragmented script some continuity.

Sidwell’s onstage companion, newsboy Al (Gregory Clarke) provided a very interesting addition to the production. Although he rarely interacts with other characters, Al proclaims snippets of headlines while striding across the stage, providing some historical depth to the show. Although raising some nostalgic chuckles and nicely juxtaposing historical events with the modern day, the frequency of these moments do trip up the flow of the performance.

Although the narrative becomes very engaging later on, and the characters are endearing, this musical is really all about the music. Leighton-Pope said of his time on Carnaby Street: “Our whole lives were based around music. It told us who we were, who we hung round with, what girls we knew, what dances we did, in fact, our entire lifestyle.”

Carnaby Street is a real celebration of 60’s pop hits, and the audience’s nodding heads and clapping hands were all in tribute to the delight and nostalgia that these classics evoke.

Carnaby Street is at The New Wimbledon Theatre until Sept 28 (inc. Saturday matinée)

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