Probably the most important theatre awards of 2012: The StOliviers
Rev Stan's theatre best and worst of 2012

In which Stan goes to a musical, sort of: Privates on Parade

Russell-beale-privates-010This year's New Year's Eve theatre outing was a little different to last year's. Firstly there was the rendition of Auld Lang Syne with he cast at the curtain call (can now say I did Auld Lang Syne with Simon Russell Beale) and it was a musical or rather there were a lot of songs, the same number as you'd have in a musical, Poly said.

I knew there were songs in Privates on Parade, a lot of people told me there were songs but I didn't realise quite how many.

One or two I liked the rest I would have fast forwarded through, I just think they get in the way of the story - but I'm not going to digress into my 'why I don't like musicals' explanation.

Privates on Parade is a good story mixing humour and japes with hints of insight into the harsh realities of a post war, dying colonial empire, racism and homophobia in a changing world.

In a different play, a play without so many songs these topics would perhaps be explored more but Privates on Parade is a play with songs centred on a group of soldiers whose primary duty is entertainment. They travel around post World War II Singapore and Malaysia entertaining the troops still stationed there, putting on camp shows, cross-dressing a duty (for some) as there is only one woman in their group.

Through the banter and the letters from home we learn of their loves, losses and aspirations. However it is a bubble, a warm and humid bubble far away from home where cultures rub up against each other and much is tolerated or at least a blind-eye turned.  As political tensions escalate, tragedy strikes and de-mob approaches the reality of life back in Blighty is a finger bursting the bubble.

You don't necessarily go to see Privates on Parade for deep and meaningful theatre you go to see the rather fabulous Simon Russell Beale in drag, some japes and naked male bottoms (OK the latter might just be moi) but its darker undertones give it a satisfying depth. It was good New Year's Eve (meaningful) fun. A few too many musical numbers for my taste but with a glass of bubbly in my hand I could live with that.

The first of five plays in Michael Grandage's season at the Noel Coward Theatre, Privates on Parade runs until March 2.

Production photo: Johan Persson


I like to think or rather I love to think that Mr W has met SRB - if not from both doing the Grandage season and the Hollow Crown series albeit on separate productions but I can't find any proof - yet.

So putting that to one side, Brodie Ross who plays Leading Aircraftman Eric Young-Love was in Othello with Dominic West who is in The Hour with Mr W. Another Hour connection comes in the form of Angus Wright who plays Major Giles Flack in Privates but was also in Design for Living at the Old Vic with Andrew Scott and Tom Burke. (Of course Mr W has also been in a play with Mr W too).