When The Pajama Game was first performed in 1954 it must have quite a novelty to see a musical set in a factory; not so much now though, with Made in Dagenham and Kinky Boots also featuring ranks of sewing machines. This is the original, however, and it’s showing its age a little in its length and some of the dialogue, not to mention the gender politics: but the songs are as good as ever and the show contains a great many classics – and we even got the (lengthy) Act 2 ballet.
GEOIDS gave us all the original songs rather than the two extra numbers seen in professional productions since 2006, and did so to their usual high standard. They have presented the show twice before and it’s good to see them including classic shows like this in their programme as well as the best of recent musical theatre. The Bridewell Theatre stage was used to good effect though rapid exits must have been quite a challenge given the restrictions of the building. Sightlines for audiences are generally good at the Bridewell, but the seats are challenging for a show that is almost three hours long.
This is a show that offers quite a range of key roles rather than just a central duo, but as supervisor Sid and Grievance Committee member Babe the assured Will de Renzy-Martin and Lois Howarth totally convinced. Howarth has an endearing manner and a voice reminiscent of the young Doris Day, and de Renzy-Martin has a powerful and impressive command of the songs, even if he does look a little young for the role and is slightly less comfortable with the dialogue.
The most assured performance comes from real-life Iowan Nathan Pollpeter (a name worthy of the cast list of any great Hollywood musical). He is totally at home, whether breaking the fourth wall or interacting with the rest of the cast, and he makes much of what can be a difficult role to put over. Gayle Bryans makes a good foil for him and dances up a storm, as do Luke Renwick as the manic Prez and Polly Hayes as Mae. These secondary roles are played by all concerned with a level of confidence that lifts the whole performance.
Although the company is seen at its best in the musical numbers, there are some nice acting cameos to be seen as well, particularly from Tess Robinson as Mabel, looking absolutely in period and timing her lines to perfection. The large and effective band under MD Paul Cozens are in their usual spot at the back of the stage, and Roberta Volpe has once again provided an excellent set. She must be a great asset to GEOIDS not just for her set designs but for the set painting skills she must be passing on to members of the company.
Choreography this time is by Cara Turtington, and she makes good use of the stage, alternating numbers for the featured dancers with whole stage numbers featuring most of the cast. And with the latter in mind, it’s good to Once a Year Day in its original context rather than as a pantomime opening number, as it was for many a year and with some inventive additions in the dance break. Steam Heat starts with the usual trio but then expands, less successfully in my view, to a larger group.
There are two directors, Emma Coffey and Grace Iglesias-Fernandez – both in the role for the first time. For the most part, their impressive production succeeds in showing off this piece to the best effect; if the pace slows in the second half, this is at least partly down to rather dated dialogue. And maybe ease off on the haze on stage; these workers seem to be sewing pajamas in a thick fog. And congratulations for organising entrances and exits for such a large cast in this theatre.
Incidentally, if you’re heading for the enterprising Bridewell Theatre, don’t believe the sign on the doors that says they open one hour before the performance; it was 25 minutes before. Till then, paying punters were left out in the cold, looking in at the front of house staff putting up displays and ignoring the queue outside: a strange way to encourage future audiences…