Somehow it’s over a year since my last (& only) trip to St James Theatre in Victoria; then for Uncle Vanya, now for Pure Imagination.
In case you’re unaware, Pure Imagination is a celebration of the prolific Leslie Bricusse’s career – one that includes award nominations & wins (Oscars, Grammys, Tonys, Ivor Novellos), collaborations with legends from Henry Mancini to Andre Previn, and the creation of many films & musicals. He’s a rare talent in that he has contributed music, lyrics & the book to projects he’s been involved in. Occasionally all three, other times a combination of roles. This makes him the ideal focal point for a musical revue such as this one – of course, co-devised by Bricusse himself, alongside Christopher Renshaw & Danielle Tarento.
I loved the staging. The band is on the left, as you look at it, and a selection of sheet music spirals out of the grand piano – circling a small screen at the back, and spiralling down onto the floor of the stage itself. The screen generally has the spiral design with song titles on show, though occasionally (& only when appropriate) it displays images, such as the night sky.
The cast are absolutely second-to-none. They don’t play characters, as such, rather they are simply The Man (Dave Willetts), The Woman (Siobhán McCarthy), The Boy (Niall Sheehy), The Girl (Julie Atherton) and The Joker (Giles Terera). All are adept in creating a fantastical world from the off; having the cast enter the auditorium via all available doors, singing the title song, is a truly magical way to start the evening.
So many songs are incorporated into the show with the use of medleys & intricate arrangements, showcasing the writing, orchestrations & the considerable talent of the cast. Using this approach allows 51 songs to fit into just under 2 hours of show time – pretty impressive, in anyone’s book!
There are many duets & group numbers, but each cast member gets a few opportunities for solo efforts, so the work (& the plaudits) get shared around equally.
As such, it’s very difficult to pick highlights; the cast & songs are so diverse, it brings a real individuality to each section. However, for sheer entertainment value, the middle section (either side of the interval) is probably my favourite. Ending act one on a medley of London themed songs, from Sherlock Holmes – The Musical, Lonnie Donegan, Scrooge and The Good Old Bad Old Days, is inspired – and definitely puts a smile on your face. Opening act two with Le Jazz Hot (from Victor/Victoria) really gets things going with a bang – and this continues with a brilliant Bond medley. I also loved the Pink Panther (I had no idea Bricusse had ever written lyrics for this piece) and Talk To The Animals; the latter showed off the cast’s ability to make a variety of animal noises (most notably Sheehy as a chimp).
For me, the two standout performances come from Atherton & Terera. The former’s distinctive voice is put to good use, and her talent for comedy really shines through. Giles Terera is an absolute revelation. I’ve only ever seen him on Horrible Histories, so it was truly wonderful to see the full range of his talents on show – he’s a terrific comic actor (one highlight being The Candyman – dishing out sweets, though “it’s not a pantomime!”), but also shines in more dramatic numbers; What Kind Of Fool Am I? shows off his vulnerability to perfection.
My verdict? A delightful theatrical masterpiece showcasing iconic songs and an inspirational cast – definitely deserved a longer run.
Pure Imagination ran at St James Theatre from 27 September-17 October.