How do you like your musical theatre?   An occasional treat for your Nan’s birthday? A full-on Christmas outing to the latest Disney blockbuster via Pizza Express for mum, dad and the kids and not much change from a grand? Or 28 of them on a relentless conveyor belt with high impact performances and a battery of jokes?

Much as @paulinlondon and I love a good show tune, the mixture in Jest End is pretty rich even for our blood, and enjoyed at a Sunday matinee in the company of a full house of working theatre people, we were perilously close to hyperglycameron mackintosa.

Modelled on Forbidden Broadway which tends to stick to spoofing the lyrics and stars of the musicals it lampoons, Garry Lake‘s home grown Jest End takes a broader and more acetic swipe at the industry, specifically exploitation of actors – three separate numbers feature the contrast between high ticket prices on ElfBook of Mormon or Green Day’s American Idiot and the poor rates of pay for the cast.

Some of the targets are squidgily soft – we know just two impresarios own most West End real estate, or that Chicago’s run for ever: smart numbers like the trilling delight of ‘Alternate Christine’ in Phantom that she only has to work two days a week, or the Mary Poppins lament about lame-brain choreography do hit home. But you’d really need to be ‘in the know’ to spot the send-up of Menier Chocolate Factory artistic director David Babani, and to have been around a while to appreciate the less-than-kindly caricature of Frances Ruffelle, Eponine in Les Miserables thirty years ago, as an unemployable geriatric.

The performers are superb, though, and the MD James Doughty indefatigable. The 2015 show was revived with just a week’s rehearsal and even though the pace is breathless, the cast never are. Faultless work from Simon BaileyScott GarnhamJodie Jacobs, and exciting newcomer Lizzy Connolly surely making a brief pitstop between stealing every scene in Xanadu and West End stardom.

There is a joke so internalized the show may just eat itself: Jacobs and Connolly portray Louise Dearman and Rachel Tucker as Glinda and Elphaba arguing about who’s actually the lead in Wicked, just as Tucker and Dearman did themselves in Jest End – with clarity and subtlety – in 2010.

Fun, undoubtedly. But if it’s to have another run beyond these two weeks at Waterloo, it needs more topicality and sharper satire.


Just out of the theatre and cowering as usual in a dirty back passage, @paulinlondon and I made our AudioBoom.  Listen here.