Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be – reviews of musical revival

May 26, 2014

Rollicking revival of Cockney musical about Soho lowlife 'well worth a butcher's', say critics

What you need to know

A revival of Cockney musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be starring Gary Kemp has opened at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. Originally a play by ex-con Frank Norman about the 1950s Soho underworld, it was turned into a musical by director Joan Littlewood in 1959, with tunes by Lionel Bart (Oliver!) ranging from music hall to rock'n'roll.

Set in a faded Soho gambling den frequented by small-time crooks, pimps and prostitutes, the story follows the intersecting fates of a group of lowlifes including Kemp as a bent policeman, a local gangster trying to establish himself as top dog, and a young woman seeking refuge from a violent partner. Runs until 8 June. 

What the critics like

"It's well worth a butcher's, no question," says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. This is a fizzing production of a warm, bustling, bittersweet and tuneful snapshot of Soho.

This is "a good-natured Cockney knees-up bursting with energy, humour and sentimentality", says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. Directed with fizzing energy and wit, it's full of hilarious performances and sublime moments to make musical comedy buffs purr with pure pleasure.

This "witty and rollicking revival" has outstanding performances, music hall bounce, Gilbert and Sullivan patter and a beguiling score, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. It is not a masterpiece but it's more than a Cockney knees-up. 

What they don't like

"You have to abandon all notions of political correctness" while watching this musical with its 1950s patter about ponces, tarts and poofs, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. It's performed with great verve, but it now looks like a period piece.    



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