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Clary Delights With The Bolds

Emotions of delight and consternation contrive into being apparently simultaneously on the boy’s face as he turns to me and asks in a hushed tone if it’s all over now. As the cast has only just completed the opening ‘Meet the Bolds’ number with great panache I assure him that we will be warming these seats for a little while yet. His press-pack freebie Hyena ears twitch with glee at this news and he returns his focus to centre stage, writes Ed, Frida and Woody Gray. 

It was a short pedal along Jamaica Road to the wonderful Unicorn Theatre in London Bridge that I used to visit as a boy myself that brought us all here tonight to see this musical adaptation of Julian Clary’s very successful Hyena themed children’s book The Bolds. The winter night may have been chill on the ride over but the warm welcome at the Unicorn was definitely subtropical. 

A large sun filled the stage as we found our seats and the houselights went down. Within seconds we were transported to the Serengeti to witness the demise of two unfortunate safari-goers at the jaws of an eager crocodile. The plucky Mr and Mrs Bold, played with great gusto by David Ahmed and Amanda Gordon, are two Hyena chancers who seize the day and decide to don the abandoned clothing of the aforementioned tourists in order that they might pass themselves off as humans and travel to England to enjoy a very different way of life in suburbia. 

Their journey takes them to 41 Fairfield Road Teddington, hometown of the young Julian Clary himself. If not a national treasure quite yet then it’s surely only a matter of time. From Fanny the Wonder Dog and Sticky Moments to Just A Minute on Radio 4 it seems he’s always been boldly taking us to where we’ve secretly always wanted to go. 

There is much of Clary’s sparkling fairy dust scattered over this production and that makes it a joy to behold. The sleek and catchy songs written by Clary and acclaimed Musical Director Simon Wallace are all foot-tappers with genuinely memorable tunes and some fine choreography from Natasha Harrison. Our daughter’s notebook from the night has the word ‘twerking’ circled, in bold.  

A classroom scene involving young Bobby and Betty Bold, Sam Swann, Mae Munuo, friend Minnie, Charity Bedu-Addo, and some edible furniture greatly tickled our young reviewers, but I felt for the poor teacher. I was reminded of my early teaching career in Peckham in the late 1990s, but that’s another story.

The Hyena family are a willing pack of gleeful messengers to convey the truism that humans often forget to laugh at the absurdity of the circumstances that befall us in life as we try to fit into, or escape from, the limitations of ourselves or those around us. Instead, we might wallow in self-pity, hiding the animal instinct deep within and preferring to wear the secrecy of conformity instead. 

Wonderful Claryisms abound in this musical and there is much appropriate ribald humour, sore plums, tunnels to be explored, etc., and a fledgling love story involving a bear called Mr McNumpty, played with equal parts of swaggering menace and tenderness by Sam Pay, and an injured Hyena, who saves the day against the Teddington Massive, endearingly played by Jon Trenchard.

Director Lee Lyford and the cast have created a magical piece of theatre from Julian Clary’s The Bolds that will delight young audiences and the young at heart. Chuckles, cackles, merriment, and Clary’s general joy kept us warm as we sped home along Jamaica Road with the boy asking with Hyena ears atop his helmet, ‘Dad, what does butch mean?’  

Unicorn Theatre, 147 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2HZ until 31st December. Times: Varied. See website for details. Admission: £22, £9. 

Box Office: 020 7645 0560 – www.unicorntheatre.com

Photos: Ellie Kurttz

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