REVIEW: Gypsy is a hugely entertaining and deeply compelling treat on Leamington stage

Rayner Wilson as Rose
Rayner Wilson as Rose

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Gypsy at the Loft Theatre, Leamington

Take an ambitious mother who projects her frustrations onto her two daughters, determined to make one of them a star. Take those daughters and give the younger one a hidden, unexpected talent. Let the older one, June (Vanessa Gravestock), depart suddenly leaving the younger, Louise (Nikki Cross) to fill her place and her mother’s fanatical ambitions. Then at the last moment, when they are down to their last nickel, let Louise discover a hidden, entirely unexpected talent for striptease in one of the sleaziest burlesque joints in town. Then let that beautiful butterfly emerge as the most famous of her kind in the world, and you have, well: Gypsy Rose Lee.

It’s a terrific rags-to-riches story, with all sorts of complex psychological motives going on behind the makeup and the smile. At its heart of course is not Gypsy, but her mother Rose (Rayner Wilson). Ferocious and tender, loving and hating, driven by her own powerful sense of rejection and yet ultimately rejected, she is an archetypal figure, both tragic and grand, magnificent and awful, a shining light and a dark place from which people naturally run.

Gypsy is a musical of many contrasts, and is hugely entertaining as well as compelling drama. There are some great songs, of course, and good dancing, and this production balances the humour nicely with the sadness. I could spend the whole review listing the talent, but John Fenner as the agent Herbie deserves special mention for his long-suffering lugubrious love for Rose. The big cast is on form, as you’d expect under Tim Willis’s direction. It’s a grand Christmas treat, and not to be missed.

* Gypsy runs until Saturday December 16. Call 01926 800360 to book.