Bonnie & Clyde is a thoroughly engaging and beautifully crafted piece of theatre. Originally written as a book by Ivan Menchell, the musical dazzlingly follows the notorious couple from childhood through their criminal careers —during the Great Depression— to their ultimate demise. Michael Bryceson’s production for the University of Manchester’s Musical Theatre Society (UMMTS) is one that excites and feels firmly rooted in the dusty landscape of 1930s Dallas.
The hazy and intimate setting of the Students’ Union Theatre evoked the atmosphere of a smoky 1930s nightclub. With exposed lightbulbs, a raised platform crafted from some old pallets, and a running reel of black and white cinema clips when the audience walked in, there was a real sense of the shoestring glamour in which the musical is very much rooted.
The piece is packed to the brim with wild talent. The music is brilliant, and the entire ensemble was a joy to watch and, universally, each voice was beautiful. The jewels of the show for me were ‘How ‘Bout a Dance’, with its very subtle and effective choreography by Sienna Kelly. So was Bonnie’s (Nia Richards) Clara-Bowesque, glinting eyes, and naive charm, matched by Clyde’s (Ben McCamley) foppishness – there was a genuine and sweet sense of tenderness between them.
It was this sweetness that made the violence between the two truly shocking. This violence and power imbalance between Bonnie and Clyde could have been pushed further in Act Two, rather than carrying the highly romanticised dynamic through the entire way. That said, it was a treat to watch Richards and McCamley together, as they are both true talents who should be proud of what a feat they have achieved.
Another standout moment has to be the beginning of Act Two, with ‘Made in America’. The cohesion and attack of the ensemble, paired with the wonderful band and brilliant lighting design made for what I would consider a highlight of the musical.
In Act One, the energy is completely spot on; there is never a moment lacking, and the humour of the piece shines through, especially in pieces like ‘You Are Going Back to Jail’. The standard is honestly stunning. As an audience member, you are enticed by the excitement and intense drive of the piece throughout the first act. It is a shame that Act Two doesn’t possess the same qualities as the emotional depths of the second half do not quite match the more heady and exciting moments of the first. The intensity of passion and aggression was not quite there to ramp up the tension that the end needed. If the intensity had been there, it would have transformed good scenes into heart-racing ones.
The reason some of the drive was lacking was partly to do with some slightly unimaginative transitions from scene to scene, which did take the audience out of the action a little. It felt like going from something very slick and professional to a good student production, which I am only writing because I know how high the standard is and can be. That said, the piece holds together very well, and the audience devoured the show, giving a standing ovation at the end.
The band must get a special mention, as the buttery smoothness of the music was a genuine delight to hear and certainly added a sumptuous gloss to the piece as a whole. While every single performer was stunning, it was Katie Sutton as Blanche Barrow who lit up the stage every time she set foot on it. With her gorgeous voice and the warmth of personality that she brought to Blanche, it was a delight to watch her perform.
I must also congratulate the creative team, as their passion for this production sang through every aspect. There were serious moments where I had to remind myself that this was a student production I was watching, as the standard across the board (both with the cast and creative team) was so high.
Ultimately, Bonnie & Clyde is a show that UMMTS can be very proud of. The audience absolutely adored it, and you would be foolish not to; the society has outdone itself.
Bonnie & Clyde runs until Saturday, November 25, 2023, at the Students’ Union Theatre. You can purchase tickets here!