Bonnie & Clyde Review: Criminally Good

The classic tale gets a musical reboot at the Garrick
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The story of Bonnie and Clyde has been told in plenty of books (some more salacious than accurate it seems). Interest in the colourful criminals was revived through the superb 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (there is also an underrated film called Highwaymen, starring Kevin Costner, about the hunt for the pair). Now we have a musical which charts their rise and fall – and thankfully it’s criminally good.

Bonnie and Clyde stand in a long line of outlaws – including Robin Hood, Dick Turpin, Pretty Boy Floyd, John Wesley Hardin, Ned Kelly, Billy the Kid – who have become legends. Outlaws are often glamorous figures, yet they are also embraced by a populace because they can be seen as taking from the rich and giving to the poor (or just taking from the rich will give them kudos). It isn’t a coincidence that Bonnie and Clyde, along with other gangsters, gained notoriety during the Great Depression (the Great Depression is touched upon in the show, but not in too depressing a way). The lover-criminals were hyped up by the newspapers – and it seemed that they believed in the hype. There are echoes of the film Natural Born Killers in the production. There is a thin line between fame and infamy. Their flame burned brightly, before burning out. Bonnie and Clyde fought the law – and the law won.

The end of the story may ultimately be tragic, but the show is full of brio, humour and punchy numbers before we get there. There’s sex, sass and songs throughout. Despite being wonderfully entertaining, it’s a credit to the show’s writers how they remained faithful to the history and characters of Bonny and Clyde. History is interesting enough for one not to need to re-write it. The story even touches upon Clyde’s abuse in prison, which contemporaries attest made him a changed man. A life of crime is a life of violence, as well as possible wealth and fame. It’s no hagiography. The protagonists are not wholly sympathetic, which ironically makes them more human and sympathetic.

The cast nail their lines and accents, like Frank Nitti nailing a hit. I have rarely seen a show utilise its backdrops so smartly. Frances Mayli McCann, as Bonnie Parker, delivers a touching and tragic last song. A special note should go to Jodie Steele, who plays Blanche Parker (sister-in-law to Clyde). Steele has both comedy chops and a voice which reaches the high notes and the right notes. The lady sitting next to me on my right, during the interval, picked her out as the highlight of the show. There was also a mother and daughter sitting to my right, who possessed an enviable and admirable amount of knowledge about musical theatre – and they rightly gushed about the performer and performance.

It’s one of the West End’s hottest tickets for a reason. Do try to see the production. As well as containing toe-tapping songs and some slick comedy, there are also history and life lessons on show. I couldn’t help but recall the line from the song Pretty Boy Floyd, by Woody Guthrie, when leaving the theatre. “Some will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen.”

Bonnie & Clyde is on at the Garrick Theatre now. Richard Foreman is a bestselling author. His latest is Turpin’s Prize.