Pins and Needles, Cock Tavern Theatre: review

Not often do you see Boris Johnson, Hitler and the Biblical king of Babylon on stage in one evening, but this is precisely what’s on offer in the Cock Tavern’s Pins and Needles.

Pins and Needles CockTavernTheatre

The show is a 1930s-style musical revue made up of comic sketches, satirical songs and plenty of dancing. It was originally created in 1937 in New York by the International Ladies Garment Workers Unions. But don’t let this put you off – in this new version by Joseph Finlay and Rachel Grunwald the tunes are brilliantly hum-able, the satire biting and the performances sizzling.

Unsurprisingly, given that the musical was created by a trade union, the show’s political leaning is decidedly left-wing. Lines such as “We’re going to rob the rich of their mystery” and song titles like “Sitting on Your Status Quo” set the tone and although the piece was written 70 years ago, director Grunwald and musical director Finlay have done a good job of making it current. A certain notorious London politician with bright blonde hair and a passion for bicycles makes an appearance, for example, and Cameron’s “big society” gets short shrift. Goldman Sachs, Swiss banks and Vodafone similarly come under fire.

Each member of the cast is impressive but Elain Lloyd’s powerful, velvety voice stands out, especially in the finale, which takes aim at capitalist greed. Dictators are the butt of the joke in “Four Little Angels of Peace”, in which Chamberlain, Mussolini, Hitler and Hirohito (played hilariously by David Barnes, Laura-Kate Gordon, Adam Walker and Matthew Rutherford) wear tinsel halos and toy wings while singing about their “peaceful” policies. Josephine Kiernan is a sassy school teacher in a toe-tapping number tightly choreographed by Nicola Martin and four devils torment a distressed Elizabeth Pruett in “The Song of the Ads” by telling her her hair is too drab, her shoes are wrong, she uses the wrong de-oderant and she won’t be happy unless she uses this product. Pianist David Preston does a great job providing the live music for all this, joined by a cool Matthew Rutherford on the double bass.

If there is a criticism, then it’s that the piece’s political edge feels blunter in pieces about 1930s America – for example, about Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. But overall this is a highly enjoyable evening which will not only have you singing the songs for days afterwards but give you plenty to think about.

4/5

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