Let me start with saying that I watched this show without any prior knowledge of either the story or the score. All I knew about Fings ain’t what they used t’be was the fact that is was a musical about cockney low-life characters set in the 1950s (which is what Wikipedia tells you). My initial thought was it might be a cockney Guys and Dolls – it turns out I wasn’t too far off.
Fings ain’t what they used t’be is a funny, sometimes slightly odd but never boring show about gamblers, thieves, prostitutes and corrupt policemen in London and their dream of a different (better?) life. Set in a gambling den in a back street of Soho it tells the story of Fred – a slightly run down gangster – who is trying to make a comeback. His girlfriend Lil longs for a respectable life. Fred’s gambling den is a meeting point for the failures of the underworld including Tosher the ponce and his girls.
I admit it took me quite a while to get into the story. I am not familiar with cockney slang and I’m sure some rather clever lines went straight over my head. However, I ended up enjoying this show a lot. It is one of those old-fashioned musicals that wins you over with its charm. Having said that I don’t think this show will appeal to everyone. It is slightly too absurd in places and the score – although very catchy in parts – is not something I would listen to at home.
The cast of this show is wonderfully talented and does a great job. I was especially impressed by Gary Kemp and Jessie Wallace.
Ryan Molloy is hilariously camp as interior designer Horace and although his appearances are sparse he steals the show whenever he is on stage – sometimes just with his outfit. Sadly I couldn’t warm to Stefan Booth’s Tosher who appears rather bland and one dimensional.
Sarah Middleton is very cute as Rosie and Christopher Ryan (Red Hot) has the audience in fits of laughter. Special mention for the brilliant Vivian Carter and Gary Watson – I just wish those two weren’t so awfully underused in this show.
Fings ain’t what they used t’be is a witty, warm-hearted musical comedy. If you like Guys and Dolls this should be a show for you. And for all of you who will be watching this for Ryan Molloy alone (I suspect that goes for quite a few people reading this): Go with an open mind and don’t expect Frankie Valli part two.
Running at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 8th June 2014.
For more info and tickets click here.