Review: Wink The Other Eye

By John Nathan, July 24, 2008

Wilton's Music Hall, London E1


"Is it a sin to present entertainment for the working classes?" asks Mr Wilton. One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, he built the world's oldest surviving music hall in London's East End, just off Cable Street.

With its cracked plaster, bare boards and exposed brick, this cavernous hall can probably lay claim to being London's most beautiful theatre - certainly the capital's best-hidden. It has also been host to the Methodist Church's East End Mission; served as HQ to those who opposed Moseley's marching fascists; and not only survived the Blitz, but the slum clearances, too.

The proposed £5 million renovation could do more damage than harm if Wilton's unique faded grandeur is replastered, repainted and repaired out of existence. So see it now in all its crumbling glory.

These days the building tends to be the star of every show that is staged there, and in honour of its heritage, writer and director Angus Barr has come up with a production that not only resurrects Wilton himself, but revives many of the acts he booked for his stage.

There is Burlington Bertie (a cross-dressing Kali Hughes) who saunters across the stage in top hat and tails and sidles up to innocent Daisy (Lulu Alexandra) - she who would look sweet on a bicycle made for two. There is also the big-bosomed and bawdy Ria (Suzie Chard) - cue lyric "Watcher Ria", which sounds like "watch her rear" - and Roger the waiter. If you need this last gag spelt out, don't bother going.

But while the performances do the songs justice, Barr has spent too little time giving his characters an off-stage life. All of them lack enough depth to be described as shallow.

At one point, an Edwardian PC Plod says he detects that the show has a narrative structure - enough to warrant closing the place down. This was when plays needed to be officially sanctioned. But he need not have worried. Barr's story - Daisy gets pregnant, Wilton has to change with the times - exists only as a cue for the songs. They are worth waiting for, but as a celebration of music hall this is an opportunity missed. (Tel: 020 7702 2789)

Last updated: 1:44pm, July 24 2008