“Jest End” at the Waterloo East Theatre – Review

Describing itself as “The hit musical comedy show that explores and exposes the hits, flops and gossip of Theatreland” Jest End does exactly what it says on the tin. A sharp and hilarious take on all of the popular musical theatre productions, writer Garry Lake has reworded and restyled familiar songs with irreverence and joy. The programme contains spoof biogs of the cast and crew, setting the tone of the show from the outset.

Jest End uses a very simple backdrop designed to resemble an underground station, with no set and few props, allowing the highly talented cast to convey a fluid progression from show to show through performance and costume alone. The actors (described as Jesters) whizz through a dazzling number of diverse characters and shows, from Wicked to Billy Elliot to Gypsy almost seamlessly. Costume designer Amy Elizabeth and choreographer Rebecca Howells remain loyal to the styles of each production lampooned in Jest End, which creates an immediate shortcut to those shows.

Avid musical theatre fans will thoroughly enjoy James Doughty’s faithful musicality, and those in the know will recognise the backstage stories of manipulative producers, prima donnas and traumatic auditions. It comes over as naughty rather than snide, with each cast member having plenty of moments to shine. Simon Bailey delivers a strong “Javert”, describing his stage directions and revealing his underlying intentions. Jodie Jacobs shines as a cheeky “Billy Elliot” and later as a bitter aging performer, while Scott Garnham had the audience in stitches with his impression of John Barrowman. Lizzy Connolly gave a wonderful performance as a “part-time Christine” in Phantom of the Opera.

Jest End is extremely well put together and able to entertain those who don’t have a vast knowledge of the genre, although some of the “in-joke” element would be lost on them, such as gesticulations that hint to a particular character or even a specific performer. In that way it resembles the structure of a pantomime where jokes are hidden amongst the banter to keep the adults entertained.

Although claiming to be a smash hit for fans of all ages, the show did contain some sexual references and gestures. These were not gratuitous but parents bringing children under the age of 10 could find those parts uncomfortable.

Jest End has an underlying message about the poor conditions that actors and other theatre professionals put up with in order to pursue their craft. It ends with a call to arms for the audience to realise that very little of the high West End ticket costs trickles down to those delivering a performance. Garry Lake and his team have managed to create a production that is very clever and highly entertaining.

Production Team
Creator/Writer/Director/Producer – Garry Lake
Choreographer – Rebecca Howells
Musical Director – James Doughty
Stage Designer – Sebastian Noel
Lighting Designer – Jack Weir
Costume Designer – Amy Elizabeth
Wig Designer – Wayne Fitzsimmons
Stage Manager – Alice Barber
Production Assistant – Caitlin Hargreaves

JESTERS
Simon Bailey, Lizzy Connolly, Scott Garnham and Jodie Jacobs

Author's review: 
5