Jessie Cohen reviews touring musical Grease after its stop-off at the Palace Theatre last week.
Two Stars out of Five Stars
The story of Grease is not a savory one and yet it is an enduring tale that continues to allure and entertain. Director David Gilmore’s rendition of the teenage love-story affirms that Grease is a reactionary tale in which protagonist Sandy, played by Carina Gillespie, undergoes a radical transformation from naive virgin to willing sex object. When probed on the message that this gives to young women Gillespie is uncritical of her character’s trajectory: ‘Sandy’s shift is a dated idea but this is a period piece. I try play Sandy as feisty throughout, as stronger than the Pink Ladies as she doesn’t give into peer pressure like smoking and drinking. The peer pressure she gives into at the end is different because that’s for a man.’ According to Gillespie, Grease explores timeless gender dynamics and that is why it is an enduring tale. I feel less comfortable with the idea that this 1950s story that draws on gender stereotype can be so easily accepted and even celebrated in the name of ‘innocent good fun’.
Although the Palace Theatre was less than half full, the stalls were buzzing with Grease enthusiasts. The show kicked off with a medley of tunes from ‘We Go Together’ to ‘Grease Lightening’ while the crowd waved in unison and the singer high-fived the keyboard player.
Danny Bayne, winner of ITV’s Grease is the Word, plays Danny Zuko with limited aplomb, imitating Travolta’s famous cackle from the film: ‘ahar, har … har’. The production taps into audience nostalgia – there are minor changes made to characterisation and the script clings closely to that of the film. There are some original features, however, that deserve divulging. In a hilarious locker-room scene, three tonk men in very tiny towels jiggle about to ‘50s tunes while the T-Birds sit around musing about their ‘sweethearts’ – its funny, but it makes no sense. Later, Russell Grant plays a camp guardian angel to one of the Pink Ladies while performing ‘Beauty School Drop Out’. Unfortunately, as in the film when Olivia Newton John was famously sewn into her skin-tight trousers, Grant was strapped into a rather too-tight silver suit which split at the crotch half way through his performance and while his trousers steadily unstitched he had the audience in uncontrollable stitches.
All considered, this production was a underwhelming experience jazzed-up by the sprinkling of a few camp performances which only accentuated the starkly non-ironic heteronormative nature of the production. Gender stereotypes are engaged in a reactionary way as women wait on the sidelines to be asked to dance and men appear in the form of angels to advise lost teenage girls who are too hung up on their looks. Grease explores the situation of a young woman under social pressure to ‘loosen up’ and who gives in at the end. Perhaps, forty years since the first Grease performance in 1972 it’s time to revise this narrative or at the very least exhibit some self-reflexive irony when re-staging it.
Grease ran at The Palace Theatre from 9th to 13th October