Bugsy Malone at Mayflower Theatre

Location: The Mayflower, Southampton

Bugsy Malone lr

By Tim Saunders

It takes a lot to create a memorable musical comedy. Of course, the music is vital. And you mustn’t forget the plot, the humour, the set, the lighting and the cast. Get all of that right and you’ve got a hit on your hands. Alan Parker, who wanted to create a film that his four children would enjoy, wrote and directed Bugsy Malone way back in 1976 – two years before I was born. With all the boxes ticked he was rewarded with five British Academy Film Awards and nominations for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. So it is no surprise at all that my family and I are absolutely mesmerised by this fantastic feel good production at The Mayflower in Southampton (on until August 27).

As soon as we take our seats we’re transported back to 1920s New York where we’re introduced to the gangsters Bugsy Malone and Fat Sam with their splurge guns and custard pies. Throughout, the audience is treated to some excellent jazz and the cast of children is a joy to watch. Amar Blackman (Bugsy), Charlie Burns (Fat Sam) and Avive Savannah Williams (Blousey) all hold our attention as does the actor who plays Knuckles, who naturally continually cracks them – perhaps a little too much for him and us. Blousey has a very fine singing voice. Henry (6), Heidi (9) and Harriett (11) are all engrossed.

The scene changes are slick and refreshing. Early on there is a café scene where the exterior is swiftly transformed into the interior. The tables at Fat Sam’s bar descend from above as do the punch bags for the boxing scene, later on. I love these little touches that create a childlike sense of wonder for me. “My favourite bit is the car,” reveal Henry and Heidi in unison. There is a clever driving and fighting scene with flashing lights, which goes on for a little too long for my liking but is very effective. The unexpected audition scene is amusing and there is fun to be had throughout, not least when Fat Sam has to do a scene change himself. And when there is a death the photographer’s flashlight engulfs the whole stage. There are some excellent effects.

“For me the cleverest scene is the boxing,” says my wife, Caroline. She’s probably right; this is full of ingenuity from the suit that falls off Leroy Smith to the ring that is created by four boxers simply holding a red rope but it is so effective. There are some really excellent fights throughout, too especially with Leroy at the back of the stage. “The lighting just reminds me of Edward Hopper’s paintings,” adds Caroline.

You must see it, but be quick it’s not on for long.