REVIEWING THE SITUATION
Phil Scott as Lionel Bart. Directed by Terence O'Connell. Artspace. Adelaide Festival Centre. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. June 18-20 2015
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|Phil Scott as Lionel Bart in Reviewing The Situation. |
Photo by Grant Sparkes-Carroll
For fans of the hit musical Oliver, consider yourself at home with Phil Scott’s fascinating account of the rise and fall of Lionel Begleiter a.k.a. Lionel Bart, the Cockney, Jewish, homosexual songwriter of countless songs for his hit musicals, Maggie May, Fings Ain’t What They Use d To Be and of course Oliver.
Scott already has a formidable reputation as a singer/songwriter, pianist and impersonator as part of the team on the highly popular political satire, The Wharf Revue. He is ideally cast in the role of the aging, bankrupt destitute and rejected toast of the West End. Once hailed as the songwriter with three West End hit musicals running simultaneously in Theatreland, Scott’s Bart is at the nadir of his glorious career. It is a sad and sorry end for a man of remarkable talent, a cockney lad with the impeccable ear for a great tune. Once the friend of London’s finest, including Noel Coward, Princess Margaret, John Lennon and Anthony Newley, and counting Judy Garland amongst his closest friends, Bart stands alone in his one bedroom flat above a steamy launderette and reveals the fatal flaw that brought him to this sorry state.
The fall of the noble hero due to a fatal flaw is the stuff of tragedy and Scott’s performance under Terence O’Connell’s sympathetic and carefully paced direction cloaks Barts’s bitter pain beneath a Cockney bravura. His Bart remains a loveable Bow Bells lad with a dangerous penchant for the good life, an unfortunate weakness for the liquor and a careless abandonment with his fabulous fortune.
Scott’s expertise on the piano seamlessly exposes the tuneful repetition of the songs of a songwriter, who could not read music, but had the talent to shape the catchl melodies in his head. Surprise follows fast upon surprise as Scott reveals the hits that are so familiar, but may not be known as Bart's songs. How many know that Cliff Richards’ hit song Living Doll or Matt Monroe’s theme song for From Russia With Love came from the fertile mind of Lionel Bart. And still they roll off the tongue: Little White Bull for Tommy Steele, The Day After Tomorrow from Maggie May and Easy Going Me for Adam Faith.
|Phil Scott as Lionel Bart|
Photo by Grant Sparkes-Carroll
Scott’s Bart is portrayed as buoyant and resigned to his sorry fate, and yet one suspects that beneath the veneer is a pain that can’t be healed. Only Cameron Macintosh it seems was generous enough to pay Bart royalties for his stage revival of Oliver, while Noel Coward was too preoccupied with guests to invite Bart to his Bahama residence. The pathos in Scott’s performance is palpable beneath the feigned acceptance of his fall from fame.
Misfortune follows misfortune as the debts rise and attempts to revive flagging fortunes fall upon barren soil. Bart's musical about the war, Blitz, quickly closes and Twang never hits the mark. “The most stupid thing I ever did,” Bart says, “was to sell the rights to Oliver to Max Bygraves for 200,000 pounds.”
Scott and O’Connell’s biographical drama of the rise and fall of Lionel Bart provides a fascinating account of the pedestals and pitfalls of the theatre world. It is a sobering account of Bart’s virtues that catapulted him to fame and fortune and the vices that tore him down. Thoroughly researched with affection and regard for a man whose music and song lit up stages throughout the world, Reviewing The Situation is a gem of a show that deserves a far wider audience than that at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Hopefully audiences everywhere may have the chance to see this production on tour. If you do, don’t miss it.