The Pajama Game (review)

There was no time for 40 winks when the classic rom-com musical The Pajama Game opened for the night shift this week.

Thursday, 2nd May 2013, 11:00 am
The Pajama Game. Photo by Catherine Ashmore.
The Pajama Game. Photo by Catherine Ashmore.

It’s one of those ridiculously cheesy shows that left the hard-to-please press night audience with silly grins on their faces. It’s impossible not to be affected by the energy, enthusiasm and sheer fun of this vintage revival that is squeezed onto the small Minerva stage at Chichester Festival Theatre

while the main building undergoes a refurb.

The Pajama Game is yet another big musical from this award winning stable that has sent Sweeney Todd, Singing In The Rain and Kiss Me Kate to West End success in recent years. They really know how to pick ‘em. Drama fans everywhere should add it to their “to-see” list.

Joanna Riding and Hadley Fraser in The Pajama Game. Photo by Catherine Ashmore.

Richard Eyre has revitalised the old Doris Day blue collar comedy with a cast of largely unknown names.

The story is set in the Sleep Tite Pajama factory (complete with American spellings!) in 1950s America. The shop floor workers are busting a gut making jammies in a sweatshop. They want a seven-and-a-half cents pay rise but the move is being resisted by their tight-fisted, penny pinching boss who is hell bent on breaking the revolt.

Amid the industrial strife a love story is played out between the dishy new superintendent Sid Sorokin and a militant union leader, the feisty firebrand Babe Williams.

It’s a factory awash with some great characters, none more so than Peter Polycarpou’s Vernon Hines, the time and motion man, who scurries around the shop floor brandishing his stopwatch like The Mad Hatter.

“Can’t waste time!” he chants as the former knife-thrower, with the hots for the boss’s sexy blonde secretary, chivvies the workforce into double-quick pyjama sewing. Hines is so keen to save time he even sleeps in his clothes to prevent losing vital minutes dressing in the morning.

Polycarpou has a show-stopping duet (literally) with Sid’s middle-aged, wise-cracking, secretary Mabel (Claire Machin) with I’ll Never Be Jealous Again. They make a great double act.

There are some big production numbers (or they would be big if they had the space), like Once A Year Day and the sizzling Steam Heat, that showcases the talented all singing, all dancing, all acting cast. They even shift their own sets (cannily mounted on castors for quick changes).

Hadley Fraser’s Sid is an ordinary Joe whose work and love-life tear him apart but I wouldn’t trust him to change a lightbulb let alone run a factory. These days his pursuit of Babe would have him face an accusation of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Joanna Riding isn’t so much a Babe as a baseball-wielding dragon. Sid’s courageous at making a play. Most men would run a mile. She’s no Doris Day (although there is a bit of Calamity Jane in some of the numbers).

The gorgeous Gladys – bombshell Alexis Owen-Hobbs –is all glamour, poured into a tight red dress. No wonder Vernon is obsessed.

This really is a joy to watch. Yes, it’s sentimental and quaintly innocent, but I loved every second of it. A great opener for CFT’s 2013 summer season.

If there’s any justice this should be following its predecessors into the West End. It deserves a bigger stage and a wider audience.

Running at CFT until June 8. For tickets call the box office 01243 781312 or go online www.cft.org.uk@LBOanne