Simon Russell Beale 'brilliant' in Privates on Parade revival

Dec 13, 2012

Russell Beale stars as drag diva in 'gloriously entertaining' military musical farce

Johan Persson

What you need to know A revival of Peter Nichols's 1977 musical farce, Privates on Parade, has opened at the Noel Coward Theatre, West End. The play, with music by Denis King, is set around the exploits of a group of fictional army entertainers, the Song and Dance Unit South East Asia. The mostly gay British military unit, stationed in Singapore and Malaysia in the late 1940s, is based on Nichols's experiences in Combined Forces Entertainment during WWII. Michael Grandage directs a cast led by Simon Russell Beale as the cross-dressing Captain Terri Dennis. Runs until 2 March.

What the critics like

Grandage's "gloriously entertaining" and often deeply touching show is blessed with "an irresistible star performance from Simon Russell Beale", says Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. "This great actor" delivers a brilliant turn as a singing female impersonator, but also "discovers emotional depth under the bitchy banter". This is much more than a star vehicle for Simon Russell Beale, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. "It offers a heady mix of personal memoir, musical parody and jaundiced account of postwar colonial politics." This is "a fine quality kick-off" for Grandage's new company, says Libby Purves in The Times. It has both comedy and a sudden shocking darkness. Russell Beale "emanates cartoonish queeniness", but also expresses his character's "mournful gentleness beautifully".

What they don't like

The show needs some tightening, says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. And "some will find it dated, perhaps even a period piece". Still, it's a lovely picture of how "military life is intertwined with agonies and absurdities".

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