New Players’ Theatre, London WC2
Opened 22 July, 2004

For years the Players’ Theatre, beneath Charing Cross station, staged imitation Victorian music-hall shows, and pantos from genuine 19th-century scripts.  Now it’s been modestly refurbished and joins a three-venue mini-empire known as Off West End Theatres Ltd.  Why am I mentioning all this? Minor theatre doesn’t change much – not very interesting, is it? No, but it’s still more exciting than the reopening show.

Snoopy was the second stage musical to spin off from Charles M Schultz’s legendary Peanuts comic strip, in 1975.  This 21st-anniversary production (some mistake, surely?) began last year at the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre, and has now been taken over by the show’s original director Arthur Whitelaw.  He gets his young British cast to perform with vim, verve and more saccharin than a vat of Diet Dr Pepper.

There are hints that the show follows Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty etc through a calendar year, but basically there’s no plot of any kind.  There are the characters we know, in brief scenes each of whose principal function is to cue a song. That’s it.  Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady’s songs are bouncy, bland beyond belief and exist in that strange twilight zone unrelated to any recognisable genre.

The big second-act number (reprised as a finale) is called "Don’t Be Anything Less Than Everything You Can Be". It’s even more jauntily annoying than its title. And longer. You get the idea?  Alex Woodhall keeps wordlessly stealing scenes as Snoopy’s bird pal Woodstock.  In contrast, Clare Louise Connolly’s shrill belting as Charlie Brown’s sister Sally makes you wonder whether perhaps infanticide should be legal.

It’s a feelgood show, but there’s a crucial difference between feeling and thought. Any kind of thought at all is guaranteed to torpedo the experience.  And since pretty much everybody who’ll attend the show will at some point find a notion crossing their minds, that amounts to rather a fatal drawback.  The world has moved on, for better or worse. So have people’s theatrical appetites. This show is out of time.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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