You have to wonder when Brighton’s Theatre Royal last had a massive swastika onstage, if ever. It seems strangely at odds with the ornate surroundings. Tonight we’re swarming to the altar of bad taste that is The Producers, Mel Brooks’ Broadway adaptation of his own 1968 film. There don’t seem to be many empty seats, which is no surprise when you take into account the quality of the cast and source material.
Revolving around the woeful tale of two chancers overselling shares in projected Broadway flop, we are treated to an all-singing and all-dancing evening’s entertainment. The first revelation for the night is Jason Manford’s turn as showbiz accountant, Leo Bloom. Never truly lighting up my comedy radar, he now shines in a demanding role. Displaying impeccable timing, a gift for dancing and a wonderful voice, the latter will dominate any post-theatre discussions for the rest of the run. The surprises didn’t end with Manford either. Phill Jupitus offered a terrifying, and almost unrecognisable, turn as the deranged ex-Nazi Franz Liebkind. With a fine line in comedy Germanic accents and scant regard for personal boundaries, it’s a joy to see his growing onstage confidence.
Most of the show’s heavy lifting was fulfilled by Cory English as chief conspirator Max Bialystock, who shined particularly during his moment of solitary anguish. In a production endowed with so many great performances there could be a danger of unbalancing, any casting inadequacy easily highlighted by their fellow actors. But control is the order of the night. Nothing is too over the top. The script may be bawdy, but there are plenty of subtle asides and nuances in the set pieces to keep it rich and varied.
The one exception to this is the show-stopping routine by David Bedella’s Roger De Bris. Up to the second act he’s been a model of restraint, at least as restrained as you can be when playing an epically flamboyant theatre director. Appearing as his assistant is the nation’s sweetheart – Louie Spence, who was trying to fill the whole stage at once with pirouetting, flipping, cartwheeling and cavorting. If his image isn’t on paper money by the end of next decade his agent is doing something wrong.
There’s an inescapable air of self-awareness in The Producers, but we never get bogged down with obscure in-jokes or constant self-referencing. It’s all hi-tempo, cheery and very, very camp. With an octogenarian chorus-line, inappropriate hat-stands and super-camp Nazis, what is not to love? But be aware, people may ask you explain what you’re privately giggling at for weeks to come.