Me and My Girl ★★★★

Matt Lucas and company in a fine song and dance

Hugely popular Jewish funny-man Matt Lucas makes his musical theatre debut in Me and My Girl. He plays  Bill Snibson, a cheerful Cockney barrow boy who discovers he’s the long-lost heir to the title of Earl of Hareford and a stately pile in Hampshire. It’s the perfect summer musical for Chichester Festival Theatre – and not just because it’s in the county next door. Artistic director Daniel Evans and his crack team prove once again their sure touch, reviving the 1937 show that stars the Lambeth Walk, the dance the Nazis denounced as ‘Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping’. With music by Noel Gay, book and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L Arthur Rose, this is the 1980s version with sparkling revisions by Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent.

After missing press night with a dodgy ferret and stoat (throat), Matt Lucas is back on form, nifty on his plates of meat (feet) and in good housewife’s choice (voice). The role of the cheeky chappie, whom the formidable Maria, Duchess of Dene takes in hand to prep him for his new role, suits him to a tee (and indeed golf and tees are on his Pygmalion-like learning curve). All brash front and double takes, he makes a fine double act with a variety of protagonists. Caroline Quentin magnificently dominates the action as the Duchess with a mission to give our Bill a makeover. She sings and dances to the manor born too. Alex Young’s feisty, bespectacled Sally Smith, Bill’s ‘little Lambeth gal’, who refuses to know her place and give up her man, is more than a match for the Hampshire toffs. And Siubhan Harrison’s gold-digging Lady Jaqueline Carstone, would-be femme fatale after Bill, his title and his geld, is deliciously no better than she should be.

Me and My Girl 1 © Johan-Persson.jpg

Musical Director and Arranger Gareth Valentine clearly relishes the jaunty numbers as much as choreographer Alistair David. It’s a real treat to watch the Lambeth Walk in context, complete with pearly kings and queens trooping down the auditorium’s aisles. It’s the first half closer for nothing can follow that – except perhaps the delightful second half opener, The Sun Has Got His Hat On – a favourite childhood song in at least three generations of our family. All this is executed on Lez Brotherston’s clever set, morphing from the miniature London skyline which greets the audience to that stately Hampshire pile.

The chorus are equally terrific in Lambeth and Hants, above and below stairs.There’s glorious support from Clive Rowe, a gentlemanly Sir John Tremayne, stoically yearning for his Duchess (although it would have been wonderful to hear more of his rich singing voice). Dominic Marsh is a great sport as The Hon. Gerald Bolingbroke, Lady Carstone’s squeeze, the butt of a fun running joke that has Bill serially half inching his watch. And in a nice bit of gender-blind casting, Jennie Dale impresses as Parchester the all-knowing family solicitor. It all makes for a fine summer ding dong!

By Judi Herman

Photos by Johan Persson

Me and My Girl runs until Saturday 25 August. 7.30pm (Mon-Sat), 2.30pm (Wed, Thu & Sat; phone for exact dates). £10-£55. Chichester Festival Theatre, PO19 6AP. 012 4378 1312.