Funny Girl, King's Theatre, Glasgow

5 June 2017

I joked to my gran that this week I would be catapulted from one end of the spectrum to the other with the two shows I was reviewing – seeing Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf on Tuesday night (review here if you haven’t read it) – a straight forward play, that was serious and antagonizing and frustrating; and then seeing Funny Girl on Wednesday night. Light hearted, musical theatre comedy.
Not to put MT down, I love MT and always will, everyone who knows me knows that, but whilst a comedic musical theatre show can have moments that annoy you or anger you or make you sad, generally when you sign up for a Musical Theatre comedy, you know what you’re getting in to and it’s overall an uplifting night. Or so I thought.

I should put into context here that I knew some of the songs prior going to see Funny Girl. And I knew Barbara Striesand was the female lead in the film. But I’d never seen the film. So I went in expecting this light hearted comedy and was surprised when throughout the majority of the show I just felt really angry.

And I’m still not 100% sure if I was meant to or not.

The cast were brilliant, Natasha J Barnes as Fanny in particular was phenomenal. She was belting beyond belting, and she was a far cry from being a singer with a big voice – her acting was totally there. The nuances of the character were there and she did make me laugh at the start, then progressively make me want to shake her, then cry for her. I'll be following her career with a weather eye and having her name associated with a show in future will probably be enough to make me book tickets.

I’m a long term Darius fan, I replayed his first album on repeat over and over, I had his book (and I went to a book signing – I tried to find the photo for your amusement but sadly I have no idea where it is now), and when he was on Popstar to Operastar I watched absolutely hooked. But no amount of fangirling could get me over how much I hated his character. Nick Arnstein enters the play in a tuxedo backstage and steals Fanny’s heart. I’m not sure if at first you’re supposed to, like she does, think he’s slick and suave then have a journey of discovery with her, or if you’re supposed to know from the get go that he’s trouble and watch in horror as the car crash unfolds, but I was definitely the second option either way, regardless of what the goal was.

And that’s partly why I found it so difficult to watch. I watched this smart, funny (she definitely lives up to the title) woman, who was that rarest of things – a celebrity whose fame comes from talent – give up opportunities and run around after a man who was vile. I’ve always thought of Don’t Rain On My Parade as an empowering song, and at the end of Act 1, when I’d seen when and why she sings it, I felt so let down. I felt like the song would forevermore have negative connotations for me. Thankfully the reprise of the song at the end, in a slightly more encouraging context, means I can actually still listen to it.

Now, we’ve all gone through it, haven’t we? The rubbish guy who you’re so blindly in love with that any form of self-respect goes right out the window. And if you’re one of the lucky few who hasn’t, I’m sure you’ve watched a friend do it. I certainly have been that person, and maybe that’s why it annoyed me so much, maybe part of me hasn’t forgiven myself for taking the amount of sh*t I have done in the past. But part of it now, when that situation occurs, is that generally everyone around you can see what’s happening, and tries to get you out of there.

And this is where I come to the thing that really annoyed me – her mother. Again, the actress, Rachel Izen, was totally committed to the part, it was the character that annoyed me. The first song ‘If A Girl Isn’t Pretty’, initiated by the mother and her friends as a way of dissuading Fanny from pursuing a career onstage because she, shock horror, isn’t pretty, riled me to begin with. But then Fanny comes back with ‘I’m The Greatest Star’ which was, well, pretty great.

Moving on from the way she objectified her daughter’s looks and made career judgements based on them and not her talent, when Mrs Brice first meets Nick Arnstein she seems like she can see through that slick talk and turned on charm the way mothers can. But she encouraged Eddie, whose advances Fanny has already turned down numerous times, to go pursue her. Why would you want to encourage someone your daughter isn’t interested in to go after her? Eddie helps Fanny prepare for stage and helps her get the debut that starts it all, and it felt like the storyline was going the way of her realising glamorous, schmoozing Arnstein isn’t for her and that she should settle for Eddie. Partly because she almost owes him something after all his help and partly because he’s always been in love with her – so she should just suddenly wake up and realise she loves him too. Thankfully (in a sense) it didn’t go that way. But yeah, I could have down without the mother encouraging him.

But what really topped it off was in the second act, after Nick has left Fanny, the mother comes on and tells her it’s all her fault because, if you can believe it, she gave him too much money. She gave him too many ‘hand outs’ and sorted out every gambling problem and every lost money problem he had and, quote, ‘A man needs to feel needed.’ It’s all her fault because she didn’t make him feel needed. Here, take my sick bucket, I had it ready for you. I mean what is that anyway, and why is that coming from her mother? I just really couldn’t deal.

Of course, it’s of the times. It’s set around the time of WWI. And yes, I should probable make more allowances for that. But had this been a story about a woman who runs about after a man whilst everyone around her tries to talk her out of it, I could have dealt with that. Having her go through everything she did to be told by her own mother that the breakdown of the (awful) marriage was her fault was just too much.

I do need to take a step back here and put these thoughts, feelings and reactions into context for you, because there is a chance that, if this context isn’t there for you as it was for me, you would be able to enjoy the show a lot more. And please do remember that when you read a review of something on my blog, you read my review. Me as me writing how I felt about it, not me as a professional theatre critic or theatre studies graduate. Blogging is a different platform for reviewing than a newspaper is, and my review on here will be different from what I’d write for a traditional publication, because it’s so personal.

First up, I do identify as a feminist. Which is why I could have dealt with the story had it not been for the mother – because it does end with her seeming to pick the pieces up and although it’s ambiguous, you do leave the theatre thinking she’s going to go on from this and it’s going to get better. But add in the mother and I’m afraid that was something I couldn’t get past.

Secondly, I did unfortunately see this show on the 31st May. Just over a week after the bombing at Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman concert in Manchester happened. Young people, mainly young women, girls, were targeted at that event. What was it about that concert? Was it the name – Dangerous Women? Was it the fact Ariana Grande is comfortable enough wearing revealing costumes, as the papers felt the need to point out? Was it the fact she created a safe space for young women to feel empowered in? Or was it simply a general attack on girl culture? There was a reason that particular concert was targeted and probably everything I’ve listed had something to do with it.

Every single day women suffer sexism – whether it’s targeted abuse or whether it’s the kind of every day sexism a lot of people don’t even really realise they’re perpetrating. Every single day women are attacked for having voices, for having thoughts and feelings, for identifying as a woman. The Manchester bombing was a literal attack on a part of girl culture that encourages girls to feel empowered. And right now I don’t think we need any other stories about anyone bringing down females, especially not their own mothers.

The cast of this show were good. Natasha J Barnes was great. The sets were beautiful and the choreography was fantastic. The costume department gave sparkles and luxury. The acting was good and I enjoyed the score. But in good conscience right now I don’t think I can recommend this show at the moment. Not because of any short fallings on the team behind it or the cast in it, but because it’s a story I just don’t think needs to be told anymore. It just wasn’t that funny.

Join the conversation!

  1. This was such an interesting review! I know (knew?) nothing about the plot of Funny Girl, but I suspect that I'd have felt the same as you if we'd been at the show together. I'm proud to bring my feminist lens to the culture I consume, and not everything will have dated well. I'm sure I've heard similar discussions about Carousel on the podcasts that I listen to recently - it's dated in a way that is either sexist or racist, I can't remember which.

    Lis / last year's girl x


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