REVIEW: Son of a Preacher Man


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Son of a Preacher Man


REVIEW: Son of a Preacher Man, Kings Theatre Portsmouth – where Helena Gomm was wishin’ and hopin’ for something better.

A talented cast, good singing, live music, a clever eye-catching set and the timeless songs of Dusty Springfield? What more could you possibly want? Well, quite a lot actually. A decent plot would have been a start, and some sparkling dialogue. However, what we actually got was a dog’s breakfast of tired platitudes about life and love, trotted out by two-dimensional sit-com characters struggling to keep up with the randomness of the storyline.

Three characters of different generations meet outside a Soho café, formerly a swinging hot spot of the 60s where the charismatic ‘Preacher Man’ used to spin the records, serve the drinks and hand out relationship advice. All three have problems with their love life. Kat, the youngest, has just lost her gran and has fallen desperately in love with someone whose profile she has seen on a dating website, but whom she has never met and who has, in fact, already rejected her own profile.

Alison is a recently-widowed teacher who has fallen in love with the teenager she is supposed to be tutoring – an uncomfortable but interesting plotline that is never really developed or explored further. Paul, who was a teenager in the 60s (though he doesn’t look nearly old enough), is searching for a man he once saw at the Preacher Man’s bar and whom he regards as the love of his life – though there was never any real relationship between them, as we find out later when the erstwhile fancy man identifies him as ‘that young boy who used to follow me around’.

There is an element of the stalker in all these scenarios, which makes it hard for the audience to empathise much with any of the main characters. Failing to find the Preacher Man himself (he has died), the trio have to make do with his son, who now runs a café on the site of the legendary bar. (‘I guess that makes you the son of the Preacher Man,’ says Kat. I bet he’s never heard that before.)

Son of a Preacher Man

Bizarrely, they decide that it is his job to step into his father’s shoes and sort their lives out. Even more bizarrely, he is talked into doing so. He manages to track down Paul’s fancy man, who has conveniently just lost his wife of 40 years, and he reels in Kat’s dating site man by posting a fake profile of his own. Liam, the teenage target of Alison’s desires, simply wanders in of his own accord.

There was no programme and the theatre staff were unable to supply me with a cast list. However, the flyer for the show identifies Alison and Kat as Debra Stephenson and Alice Barlow respectively. For some reason, the name of the actor playing Paul doesn’t appear on any of the publicity material, though there is a photo of him, so they clearly knew who it was going to be. Online research reveals him to be Michael Howe and, to my mind, he deserves equal billing. He works hard to bring some life to the cliché-ridden script, and he has a fine and powerful voice and seemingly boundless energy. Nevertheless, his relentless pursuit of the man of his dreams, now a dowdy widower in a cardigan, seems almost predatory and is just one of the more uncomfortable aspects of a largely uncomfortable show.

Perhaps the oddest character (and in a show where one of the high points is a woman impersonating a chicken, that is saying quite a bit) is Kat’s dating man, Mike, a burly Scottish plumber who doesn’t wear his kilt when he’s out on the town, but sports it during the day when he’s fixing the pipes. The plot requires him to transform swiftly from desirable dreamboat to despicable fortune hunter in a matter of seconds.

And that isn’t the only transformation. Girl-next-door Kat who is feisty but likeable for most of the show is suddenly required to perform an embarrassingly raunchy dance number, completely out of place with both character and story, in which she repeatedly thrusts her backside in Mike’s face and then stuffs fig rolls into his mouth. This is neither sexy nor enjoyable to watch. The choreography should enhance the story, rather than the story being the vehicle to showcase the choreography, and Craig Revel Horwood should know better.

Although the storyline and the crass dialogue with its cringe-worthy puns and flat jokes require the audience to suspend their disbelief to the absolute limit, there are good points to the show. The Cappuccino Girls, the waitresses at the café, are fun to watch, though the incessant strutting of one of them becomes a little wearisome, and there is a bright youthful energy that is maintained throughout. And then, of course, there’s the music – what’s not to like there? But a musical needs more than this.

The show runs at two and a half hours and given that the audience were kept waiting outside the auditorium till 15 minutes after the show was supposed to have started (with an apology but no explanation), it was a very long evening indeed.