Bathhouse! The Musical
Above the Stag Theatre, Arch 17, Miles Street, Vauxhall SW8 1RZ
#Tweetingit – review in 140 characters: 4* High-camp humour + harmonious voices + the odd gratuitous glimpse = raucous laughter all round
Down an unpromising road, underneath a busy train route in Vauxhall, is your friendly neighbourhood bathhouse.
Here you will be greeted by Gyles Brandreth’s omnipotent voice, extolling the virtues of the steamy sauna and educating you, and bathhouse newbie Billy, in bathhouse etiquette. The theatre itself is intimate to say the least, seating only 60, and often has to battle with the rumblings of the trains overhead. If you are sitting in the front row, expect a little harmless contact with the cast and if you’re sitting beyond the front row, you are still very close to the stage.
In Act 1, we meet Billy, played with excellent comedy-timing by Ryan Lynch, and the regulars of the bathhouse whilst they tell us a little about themselves and what they come to the bathhouse in search of (spoiler alert: it is not to have a bath). With catchy numbers such as ‘Bear’ and ‘The Workout’ performed with aplomb by the cast, the audience are led on a high-kicking, towel-dropping laughter-fest. The singing is skilled and, at times, angelic. The songs are generally fast-paced and upbeat, with a few slower songs performed with pathos; no mean feat for a story that, essentially, does not have a story. Billy starts visiting the bathhouse and soon meets The Bear, a suitably-hairy Tim McArthur (also the director), who is rather popular amongst the patrons of the bathhouse. Billy has his first steamy encounter and is soon trying to progress the relationship to the next level, only to find the relationship is not as serious as he thinks it is.
In Act 2, the audience are treated to an educational number, ‘Penises are like Snowflakes’, an homage to…well, you can probably guess. We catch up with Billy as he gets over his disappointment in the previous act by trying a spot of internet dating. There are name-checks for well-known gay dating apps you’ve heard of and a great many that you, probably, haven’t. Billy arranges to meet someone at the bathhouse, only to find that it is The Bear. They perform a touching duet and agree they are not right for each other. The finale is a medley of the previously-performed songs, with some brilliant boyband-esque power gestures, and the cast dance and harmonise in perfect unison to bring the evening’s events to a raucous, confetti-strewn end.
If you’re looking for a thought-provoking storyline, Bathhouse! is not for you. There are however genuinely hilarious moments, catchy songs and excellent tongue-in-cheek performances by the cast. The play does touch upon some of the difficulties gay men face, but it is generally played for laughs. There are the odd flashes of backside, and more, here and there but not enough to make you blush. Mature audiences only, but you should probably be young at heart.
Director: Tim McArthur
Writers: Tim Evanicki and Esther Daack
Booking until: 20 July 2014
Guest Reviewer – Judy Yau