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‘Sweet Charity’ at London’s Donmar Warehouse review: ‘Anne-Marie Duff soars in this high-flying revival’

The '60s musical classic takes on a new life in this big and bold production.

By Will Stroude

Words: Simon Button

OK, so she’s not a great dancer, although choreographer Wayne McGregor works around her limitations and places her on the edges of the ensemble for the bigger numbers.

And she’s not a great singer, although there’s a husky realness to her vocals that makes ‘Where Am I Going?’ tear at the heartstrings and ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now” an explosion of joy.

What Anne-Marie Duff has, though, is a glorious smile, the emotional range to make ’60s dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine as fully three-dimensional as director Josie Rourke’s vibrant new production of an oft-revived show and so much likeability you want to reach out and hug her whenever things go wrong for Charity.

Image: Johan Persson

Things go wrong for Charity rather a lot. When we first meet her she gets pushed into the Central Park lake by a boyfriend who’s also a handbag thief, then we learn she’s a dance hall hostess whose job (as one co-worker puts it) is to defend herself to music against the groping clientele.

This being a musical comedy, from the pen of Neil Simon with a classic score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, thankfully there’s some levity in Charity’s life – like an encounter with an Italian movie star that ends with her hiding in a closet and a chance meeting in a lift with a claustrophobe named Oscar that leads to romance and a visit to a hippie church for a showstopping ‘Rhythm Of Life’ that will be lead by a variety of guest stars during the show’s run. (We got Adrian Lester, with Le Gateau Chocolat and Beverley Knight among the forthcomers.)

Image: Johan Persson

Arthur Darvill is an adorably dorky Oscar, Lizzy Connolly and Debbie Kurup are sensational as Charity’s sassy dance hall sidekicks and the whole cast work their butts off in numbers like ‘Big Spender” (done with ladders as a sleazy, cynical come-on) and ‘I’m A Brass Band’ (a stars-and-stripes extravaganza).

Sweet Charity is usually done like the original production and film version, with slinky Bob Fosse choreography and colourful ’60s New York settings, but director Rourke and designer Robert Jones here give it an Andy Warhol’s factory/Pop Art vibe that works brilliantly. And McGregor’s dance moves are bigger and bolder, with a whole bunch of Warhols storming the stage for the Pompeii Club section.

Image: Johan Persson

At the centre of it all is Duff’s lovable Charity, someone to root for and cry for. At one point she’s got so many balloons strapped to her arms you think she might take off – an apt image for a star who soars in this most high-flying revival.

Rating: 5/5

Sweet Charity is at the Donmar Warehouse until 8 June. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.