Bonnie and Clyde – review

"They're young, they're in love … and they kill people," ran the posters for the famous 1967 movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

With a few adornments, that remains pretty much the story of this new musical about the Texan outlaws of the early 1930s. Linnie Reedman as writer and director, and Joe Evans as composer and lyricist, do a professional job, but I feel they've chosen an unfortunate subject for a tune-and-toe show.

You don't, of course, have to like a musical protagonist: Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is a serial killer, though at least he has a motive and a cue for murder. In this instance, however, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow seem driven by little more than a desperate desire for fame: Bonnie, in particular, fantasises about being a Broadway star, while the gun-toting Clyde glories in being seen as a headline-grabbing desperado. Although Reedman's book goes out of its way to point up the improvised nature of their on-the-run existence, the songs inescapably sentimentalise their story: it becomes hard to take seriously the romantic ballads about a couple staying "side to side to the end" when that involves the killing of 14 cops.

The show comes up with some interesting details, such as Bonnie's penchant for writing poetry, and offers a few stabs at social criticism, including the injunction to "rob the banks before they rob you". But it's difficult to accept that Bonnie and Clyde were victims of media manipulation when they so eagerly posed for photos on the dashboards of their stolen cars. Reedman's production makes good use of those newspaper shots, but one thing they reveal is that the real Bonnie had, in the caustic words of David Thomson in The Big Screen, "a face like raw wood shaped with a hatchet".

Samantha Louise Clark, who plays her here, is trimly seductive, while Tom Sword, with trilby raffishly pulled over his left eye, lends Clyde leading-man good looks. But while they, like the rest of the cast, sing and perform well, they highlight the paradox of the show: it supposedly attempts to deglamourise Bonnie and Clyde, yet still ends up making them look like romantic runaways.

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Powered by article was written by Michael Billington, for The Guardian on Thursday 29th August 2013 15.05 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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