The Royal Exchange’s Christmas production sees the relentlessly cheery Charity Hope Valentine pursuit for true love. Sweet Charity takes its audience back to the 1960s with its fast-paced shape shifting dance numbers, its free love themes and its terrific live band on display.
We first see the dance hall hostess Charity on stage sporting her latest lovers name on her shoulder. This is the same lover who pushes Charity into a lake within the first three minutes of the show. Unlike the film of the same name, which takes great enjoyment in Charity’s continued failings, David Bond considers the feminist unfriendly themes of the original and weeds out enough of the victim filled role that Charity is known for.
Bonds direction allows Charity to be at the very least, in on the joke as she searches for love in all the wrong places. Charity, played by Kaisa Hammarlund brings a charming naivety to the performance that is compelling to watch. Unsurprisingly, Hammarlund has also played Elle Wood in the Legally Blonde stage musical adaptation, which is not a far stretch from Charity Hope Valentine.
The Royal Exchange generally limits set changes as the theatres shape requires three levels of audience members to recognise the changing visuals of its round stage. However, Sweet Charity sweeps through unique scenes effortlessly, maximises the space in the round and recreates everything from the dance hall and broken lifts to a hot air balloon ride. Hits like Rhythm of Life, If They Could See Me Now and Big Spender are wrapped up in falling mirrors and areal lights which help to re-establish Charity’s bright, frenzied lifestyle.
Fortunately, the theme of a woman’s self-worth is tacked onto this production, which boasts a strong cast of incredible singers and charismatic performers. Rather than have the audience continually watch the women dance on the floor of the club, audiences mainly view the female dancers in their dressing room through clear mirrors which stare out directly to the audience. It may sound voyeuristic but in this uncomplicated story of a dancer looking for love, its original messaging from 1966 cannot be completely removed.
Nevertheless, the Rhythm of Life cult leader, which is habitually a male role, is now played by the powerful Josie Benson. The live brass band led by Mark Aspinall is terrific and the seamlessly inventive sets are a thrill to discover. With such an effortlessly great cast, the stories mixed messaging to women will easily be forgotten as Sweet Charity brings a joy that is inescapable.