Entertainment & Arts

Alan Parker 'never liked' stage versions of Bugsy Malone

Daniel Purves in Bugsy Malone Image copyright Manuel Harlan
Image caption Daniel Purves is one of the young actors playing the titular Bugsy Malone

Director Alan Parker has sung the praises of a new stage version of his film Bugsy Malone, confessing he had "never liked" previous adaptations.

"They've made the most of the music and brought it up to date," he said of the production, which opened this week at the Lyric Hammersmith in west London.

Parker said he had previously been wary of stage versions of his 1976 comedy, in which child actors played gangsters.

"I've never encouraged it to be on stage," said the 71-year-old.

"I've never liked [stage versions] in the past".

The current production, directed by Sean Holmes, is the first professional UK staging of the crime film pastiche in more than a decade.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Parker's other films include Fame, Angel Heart and Mississippi Burning

"I said to Sean, 'Please just make it as good as the film,'" Parker told the BBC. "When I was watching the rehearsals I said to him, 'You're not meant to make it better than the film!'

"In some ways, it is better."

'Knock-out force'

The Daily Telegraph echoed those sentiments in its five-star review, calling its mix of child actors, 'splurge guns' and custard pies "a blast".

"Where it counts - American accents, deadpan attitudes, dance-steps and vocal strength - the show delivers the goods with knock-out force," wrote critic Dominic Cavendish.

Another five-star rave on the WhatsOnStage website called the production - the first to be staged at the Lyric since its £20m redevelopment - "extraordinary and unforgettable".

"Brilliantly directed by Holmes and sensationally well-choreographed by Drew McOnie, the show is a blast from titfer top to tapping toe," wrote reviewer Michael Coveney.

Image copyright Manuel Harlan
Image caption The members of the ensemble are aged between nine and 22

Set in a parodic version of Prohibition era New York, the show sees ex-boxer Bugsy fall for aspiring singer Blousey Brown against a backdrop of warring gangster clans.

The original film starred Scott Biao in the title role and memorably featured Jodie Foster as a torch singer whose "name is Tallulah".

"To have kids as the heroes is such an odd idea in itself," said Parker. "It can fall flat on its face if it's not done well.

"People don't realise how hard it is to get these kids to be as good as they are."

The new production, continued the film-maker, had "a brilliant director, fantastic choreography and extraordinary talent" and was "really good theatre".

The main roles are rotated among three different sets of young performers who, unlike their cinematic predecessors, are required to sing their songs live.

"We have 21 children in all, seven each night," said Holmes. "It's tricky to direct as you have to treat everybody the same.

"What I hope is that you get a sense of their own delight, energy and ownership."

Image copyright Manuel Harlan
Image caption Thea Lamb is one of three actresses who share the role of Blousey Brown

"It is all staged by Sean Holmes with great elan, the cast is highly talented, and the audience went wild with delight," wrote The Guardian's Michael Billington.

The critic, though, said there was "an unavoidable cutesiness about the sight of kids apeing adult mannerisms" and "found something resistible about [the show's] desperate desire to be loved."

Bugsy Malone continues at the Lyric Hammersmith until 1 August.

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