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'The Great British Bake Off Musical' review – the TV institution has become a scrumptious West End treat

Read our four-star review of The Great British Bake Off Musical at the Noel Coward Theatre, running through 13 May. Get The Great British Bake Off Musical tickets on London Theatre.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Sugar, butter, flour… No, not Waitress: the West End has a new baking hit on its oven-gloved hands. Transferring to London following its Cheltenham debut last year, The Great British Bake Off Musical (drawing from the same successful recipe as the TV institution) is part love letter, part gentle send-up, with a slice of romance and a soupçon of showbiz satire. And the resulting mixture, briskly stirred by director Rachel Kavanaugh, goes down a treat.

You don’t have to be a Bake Off superfan to enjoy it, but it’ll definitely help. That way, you’ll appreciate all the detailed homages here: from the pastel work surfaces, bunting, and gleaming mixers in the Edenic tent, through references to Star Baker, soggy bottoms, and eyebrow-waggling innuendo, to headline-making Bake Off moments (watch out for Bingate), dramatic injuries, increasingly complicated challenges (“Make a focaccia of your face!”), and even including the most delectable of contestant putdowns: no-nonsense Nancy dismissing Paul Hollywood as “the male judge”.

Hollywood and Prue Leith are here too, in the guise of Phil Hollinghurst (perma-tanned, motorcycle-riding, prone to Zoolander-ing down the camera lens) and Pam Lee (colourful fashion, giant statement jewellery, likes a drink or two – actually, is that more Mary Berry?). You’ll recognise all the contestant types as well in this spot-on pretend series: the lovable nan, the vegan hipster, the hyper-competitive posh student, the engineer who spends as much time constructing elaborate presentation stands as he does the actual food.

Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s lively pastiche score is well organised into, essentially, a succession of skits – winking riffs on different aspects of Bake Off, with a range of musical styles to suit. So there are big diva ballads, jazzy vaudevillian numbers with bouncy grapevines, a wry lament that’s pure Victoria Wood, and (my favourite) earnest 90s pop crooning complete with dry ice and air grabs as the contestants share their desire for a Hollywood – sorry, Hollinghurst – Handshake.

The show does stray into syrupy territory whenever it turns baking into a metaphor for life, though. So childless Italian fashionista Francesca uses it as a substitute for her missing “bun in the oven”, widower Ben sticks to his late wife’s recipes until he decides he’s ready for a new taste, and shy carer Gemma hopes she can find the right ingredient to give herself confidence. More effective is Syrian teen Hassan (an instantly lovable Aharon Rayner) describing, in straightforward, non-simile-battered terms, how baking won him social acceptance.

But, if the songs feature some knowingly sketchy rhymes (“action” matched with “Michelin”), they’re brilliantly tailored to the characters, creating a mini showcase for each performer. Grace Mouat is deliciously villainous as scheming, ambitious student Izzy; Claire Moore twinkles as naughty grandmother Babs; Michael Cahill is a hoot as camp inventor Russell; Jay Saighal brings alarming intensity to eco-conscious Dezza; and Cat Sandison sells Francesca’s emotional turmoil through sheer force of will – and soaring vocals.

The treacly burgeoning romance between Russell and Gemma (with an assist from the former’s precocious nine-year-old daughter) would make your fillings ache if Damian Humbley and Charlotte Wakefield didn’t bring such gentle sincerity and soulful singing to it. And it’s offset by John Owen-Jones’s brilliant skewering of Scouse judge “Phil”, slapping around his phallic-looking strudel dough with ridiculously macho swagger.

He’s joined for the West End run by the wonderful Haydn Gwynne, who gets a new number complete with scarlet sequinned frock and impressive cartwheel (next stop: Strictly). The pair give good behind-the-scenes spoofing too, staggering around hungover after the Baftas, or comparing mouth-watering commercial opportunities. And Bake Off should seriously think about employing Scott Paige, here acting as host alongside Zoe Birkett, for real: his comic timing is immaculate.

Georgina Lamb enjoyably employs bowls, whisks and spoons in her whimsical choreography, while Alice Power not only re-creates the series’ aesthetic perfectly but also whips up showstopping creations. Yes, you might wish for a tad more spice to balance out the sweetness, but it’s hard not to melt when you see the contestants helping each other, or hear a lyric so English that it should be added to the national anthem: “Cake is the key/ And it comes with a cup of tea.” Bliss.

The Great British Bake Off Musical is at the Noel Coward Theatre through 13 May. Book The Great British Bake Off Musical tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Jay Saighal and Haydn Gwynne in The Great British Bake Off Musical (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

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