The Pajama Game 2014

  • Our critic's rating:
    Average press rating:
    Date:
    Wednesday, 14 May, 2014

    "Hurry up, can't waste time!" sing the chorus of factory workers in The Pajama Game, and they don't in this always propulsive, completely exhilarating new production of the 1954 Broadway classic. And you, too, should hurry up and not waste time to secure a ticket to see it, as it is only at the Shaftesbury for a limited four-month season till mid-September, before a more recent Broadway hit Memphis arrives to take its place.

    Richard Eyre, whose famous 1982 production of Guys and Dolls at the National (itself revived there in 1996) led him into the artistic director's chair there soon a few years later, has recently had a patchy time with new musicals like Betty Blue Eyes and Stephen Ward, but here he's absolutely in his element, lending the same kind of exhilarating energy and releasing the wit and abundant high spirits of this glorious musical anew.

    It is unquestionably his best musical production since Guys and Dolls, and is cut from the same 50s cloth. In this case, of course, it is partly about cutting cloth in the manufacture of pajamas and how the workers cut corners when management denies them a pay rise. There's a radical, Brechtian edge to the musical that we are warned early on that is about capital and labour; but it doesn't drive home an earnest message. Instead, it more subversively shows how the management's dishonesty is eventually exposed and does so with a constant flow of wit and great production numbers.

    There are many echoes between The Pajama Game and Guys and Dolls in that regard and intriguingly, Chichester, where this production was launched last summer in the studio Minerva, is coincidentally staging a new production of Guys and Dolls this Summer (with a different director). Both shows are brassy, bold and brilliantly coloured representations of their worlds, and Eyre knows superbly how to populate them, with invaluable support from both his designer Tim Hatley and especially his choreographer Stephen Mear.

    Chichester is also fast becoming our most significant revival house for musicals. Last year its production of Sweeney Todd took home three Olivier Awards including the nod for Best Musical Revival, and this summer will also be offering the Olivier winning star of that production Imelda Staunton as Mama Rose in Gypsy. It will have to be good to beat this stunner of a production for Best Revival at next year's awards, though.

    This high-spirited and even higher-kicking production detonates with such life-affirming joy and sizzles with so much sexual energy that it leaves the audience as breathless as the actors must feel (but don't show), in its portrait of the racy relationships it charts at a pajama-making factory where the boss is on the fiddle and the workers are demanding a pay rise. Matters come to a head when Babe, the factory activist who is chairman of the grievance committee, sabotages her sewing machine and is fired on the spot by the factory superintendent Sid -- but it is complicated by the fact that they are also falling in love.

    As gorgeously played by Joanna Riding and Michael Xavier (replacing Chichester's Hadley Fraser), they are a sparky match for each other in muscle as well as music; they both have great tone in every sense. Meanwhile, Alexis Owen-Hobbs threatens to melt the place with the sensational song 'Steam Heat', with columns of steam gush from the floor to match the rise in temperature. There's also a hilarious comic turn from Peter Polycarpou who virtually steals the show as the violently jealous suitor to Owen-Hobbs's Gladys.

    This production is both seductive and sensational. A must-see.

    (Mark Shenton)

    "Watching Richard Eyre’s joyful production of this musical comedy, with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a punchy book by the Broadway legend George Abbott and Richard Bissell, it often feels like one of the most zingingly entertaining tune-and-toe shows you have ever seen. "
    Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph

    "It's a big leap from the Minerva in Chichester to the Shaftesbury, but Richard Eyre's joyous production of this 1954 musical effortlessly expands to fill the space."
    Michael Billington for The Guardian

    Read our review of The Pajama Game from 1999

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