Theatre reviews: Bonnie and Clyde | Who Pays the Piper?

Bonnie & Clyde is a fine and thoughtful show which has plenty to tell us about the world that made the two young outlaws, writes Joyce McMillan

Bonnie and Clyde, King’s Theatre, Glasgow ****

Who Pays the Piper?, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

Outsiders and outlaws: they’re glamorous, thrilling and the stuff of legend – yet still, most of us would never choose to be them. The current UK touring version of the Bonnie & Clyde stage musical – set to reach Edinburgh in July – offers an extraordinarily vivid take on the story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, two small-town kids from Texas who, in the early 1930s, cut loose, and went on a robbing and killing spree across the southern United States, until a sheriff’s posse gunned them down together in their car, in the spring of 1934.

Who Pays the Piper PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken WanWho Pays the Piper PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Who Pays the Piper PIC: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

It’s a fiercely dramatic tale of the American Dream gone wrong which Arthur Penn’s 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway transformed into a global icon of doomed rebellion. What the musical version can do, though – in ways the film cannot – is dive into the burning emotional depths of frustration, anger, ambition and desire that drive Bonnie and Clyde, and give them full musical expression, via Frank Wildhorn’s music and Don Black’s lyrics, and also to use big musical numbers to evoke the communities against which they rebelled.

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In director-choreographer Nick Winston’s powerful production, Katie Tonkinson and Alex James-Hatton deliver two moving, thought-provoking performances in the leading roles, charting how the booming Hollywood film industry encouraged small-town Americans to dream of other worlds, while the crushingeconomic crisis of the Depression often left young men with little alternative but to take to crime. The couple’s instant recognition of each other as fellow outlaws, and the depth of their connection, is touchingly conveyed in songs like Bonnie’s How ’Bout A Dance, and Clyde’s tender ballad Bonnie; their connection to the wider world is brilliantly channelled through Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche, played and sung with terrific flair by Catherine Tyldesley – and Sam Ferriday as his brother Buck, always torn between the law-abiding life Blanche yearns for, and the thrill of the road.

And with spectacular numbers like God’s Arms Are Always Open bringing the 17-strong cast together to evoke the intensity of southern Christian fundamentalist culture, this fine and thoughtful show has plenty to tell us about the world that made Bonnie & Clyde. It also offers a gently operatic vision of the couple themselves, as hard-faced killers who may, in the end, have been driven as much by love, yearning and youthful recklessness, as by fear, hatred and greed.

The young heroine of Jen McGregor’s powerful A Play, a Pie and a Pint show Who Pays The Piper is also something of an outsider; although in Sarah’s case she is simply enduring the grinding 21st-century exhaustion of a young aspiring singer from a working-class background trying to make a career in opera. She works as a delivery rider to eke out her modest income from singing lessons, and in her late twenties is running out of energy and hope. When she meets a rich, self-indulgent lady student in her fifties, who can afford to hire halls and give concerts as her latest pet hobby, her many frustrations begin to come to a head.

In Tom Cooper’s production, Helen Logan makes a heroic job of the role of wealthy Marie, not a great singer, but still – as she poignantly tackles Purcell’s When I Am Laid In Earth – not quite the talentless monster it would have been easy to make her. It’s a measure of the strength of Christina Gordon’s quietly brilliant performance as Sarah, though, that she always remains the heart-wrenching emotional centre of the show; a story of a generation heartbroken by empty promises of equality and opportunity, and now barely able to imagine any viable economic future, far less the one of which they once dreamed.

Bonnie & Clyde is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 2-6 July; Who Pays The Piper, run ended.