JAN MOIR gets her fill as The Great British Bake Off Musical opensFebruary 27, 2023
A mille-feuille with layers of jammy wokery and enough sugar to make the teeth scream: JAN MOIR gets her fill as The Great British Bake Off Musical hits the West End
One, two, three, four — if you’re feeling down and in the gutter, why not mix some sugar and butter? For it’s simply amazing what you can ach–i-eveee, when you roll up your sleeve.
Excuse this songburst of cake-based cacophony, but The Great British Bake Off Musical has just opened in London’s West End.
At the Noel Coward Theatre on Sunday, the curtain came up on a new show based on the much-loved TV series, which famously features amateur contestants being judged on their baking prowess by Dame Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood.
Good things will come to those who bake, promise these music makers, but is that entirely true?
The two-act show, written by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, compresses eight bakers and an entire Bake Off series into just over two hours; a millefeuille with dense layers of jammy wokery and enough sugar to make the teeth scream.
Oven ready: John Owen-Jones and Haydn Gwynne on stage as the Bake Off judges
On stage: The cast sing one of the show’s numbers
Brave but bereaved children, plucky refugees, carers with chronic self-esteem issues? Somehow they are all whipped into this syrupy mix, along with a contestant called Francesca (Cat Sandison) who sings earnestly about how baking has helped her cope with fertility issues. She yodels on about longing ‘to grow a bun in the oven’, but I can’t give you any more details on account of being under the seat with my own cringe issues at this point.
Meanwhile, Syrian immigrant Hassan (Aharon Rayner) wonders if he is qualified to even enter the Bake Off competition. ‘Am I British? That is weird, it is crazy,’ he sings, before explaining how baking fairy cakes as a nine-year-old helped him feel as though he finally belonged in his North London school.
How lovely for Hassan, although one does long for a slice of modern entertainment that doesn’t lecture audiences or club them over the head with the big stick of diversity at every opportunity. Slim hope. Fat chance.
In the musical Bake Off tent, John Owen-Jones stars as Phil Hollinghurst (a gently disguised Paul Hollywood), while Haydn Gwynne plonks on her multi-coloured spectacles and hi-vis outfits for a fine turn as Pam Lee (aka Dame Prue).
Together they sing the show’s best number — a sparkling duet called I’d Never Be Me Without You.
‘You’re as daft as a brush,’ she sings. ‘And you’re an old lush,’ he adds, in reference to her noted fondness for booze in her bakes and sherry trifles. Well, let’s hope that is what he means. At one point, 65-year-old Haydn does a cartwheel, which has nothing to do with her alcohol intake, but has the audience roaring.
Songs include Slap It Like That (about strudel dough) and The Handshake Song, which includes the line ‘at the end of his arm is an infamous palm’.
No explanation needed here for Bake Off superfans, who will also nod knowingly at references to bowls of ice cream vanishing from the freezer (Baked Alaska-gate from series five) and a certain someone who is ‘a silver fox with his spiky locks’. Everyone else is on their own, navigating a production that is camper than a thousand Bake Off tents and, despite everything, not without its charms.
The Great British Bake Off Musical? Perhaps such sponge-based madness had to happen sooner or later. For is there another television show which so neatly weighs out the eccentric beating heart of honest to goodness British values — including fair play, filthy innuendo and, yes please, I’d love another biscuit?
When the first GBBO series was screened on BBC back in 2010, only two million viewers regularly tuned in to see contestants battle with their cream puffs and soggy bottoms. Yet it grew and grew, peaking at nearly 14 million in 2016, the year before the show moved to Channel 4. Last year, 5.2 million people watched Syabira Yusoff win with her porkless pork pies and heart-shaped sandwiches.
Hardcore fans will no doubt provide a ready audience for this musical, which was five years in development and created in association with Love Productions — who made the original TV series. This West End debut follows nightly standing ovations during a sold-out run in Cheltenham.
Really, you could pelt the stalls with stale scones and they would probably still love it. Although I wonder if fans deserve better than lines such as ‘it’s not ideal, the gelatine will just congeal’, and a big sob story about macarons, which just might crack under the emotional freight heaped upon them.
‘The first night curtain came down to a standing ovation and everyone in the packed theatre seemed to absolutely adore the show’
And did we really need a portable toilet wheeled on, just for a gag about the digestive efficacy of prune and date flapjacks? No, we did not.
It’s also noticeable that while the show packs in plenty of jokes about Pam/Prue, there are hardly any about Paul — certainly none that bite. Pam/Prue stands accused of being so mercenary she has a ‘Panty Pads’ line in TK Maxx and instructs her agent that ‘it’s a yes to the Masked Singer’.
Meanwhile, Paul is treated with an oily reverence from start to finish. Perhaps this is because Hollywood is notoriously thin-skinned — and Love Productions clearly do not want to sour the cherry on their very profitable cake.
When I went on Sunday afternoon, Hollywood was reportedly there in the audience himself, perhaps checking that he is given the respect he feels he deserves. Considering that his Bake Off life is ripe for satire, all this worship feels like an opportunity missed. After all, the stardom that came with the show turned Hollywood’s life around.
‘It changed him,’ said his wife. It is no secret that Hollywood had a close relationship with his co-judge on the U.S. version of the show, got divorced, later dated a 23-year-old who worked in a pub and is now apparently engaged to the landlady of another local pub. If that is not worth a song, what is? Maestro! Take it away . . .
The silver-haired fox dreams of bagels and lox
And pies that are well filled and crusty
But each time a love opportunity knocks
He goes for barmaids, preferably busty
In the musical, there is a Cockney contestant called Babs, winningly played by Claire Moore. She is a single lady of a certain age — and sings of her lust for Hollywood in a song called Bab’s Lament. ‘That blue-eyed baker,’ she sings, who makes her ‘feel like Aphrodite in my see-through nightie’. It nearly brings the house down — we needed much more of this.
Elsewhere, the whole show is built on the flaky love story between two contestants; widowed father Ben (Damian Humbley) and insecure carer Gemma from Blackpool (Charlotte Wakefield). Ben’s tiny daughter Lily (Amelie Rouse) even trots on to tug at the heartstrings and sing a duet with her daddy. ‘You’ll savour every crumb,’ he promises. ‘Is Gemma going to be my new mum?’ she trills. It was back under the seat for me, I’m afraid.
Overall there is a prologue, a finale, lots of (excellent) singing and not much dancing — the sight of bakers waving tea towels and bowls in the air palls very quickly.
And yes, there is an obligatory Liz Truss joke — that’s what passes for satire here — while in one scene the inspired lunacy of two giant scones fighting to sort out the winner once and for all — jam first, or cream?— showed what this show could have been had the misplaced veneration been replaced with a great big dollop of saucy mockery instead.
But so what? The first night curtain came down to a standing ovation and everyone in the packed theatre seemed to absolutely adore the show. From the young woman with a purple Mohican to the three generations of the same family in front of me, the audience represented the immense span of the Bake Off appeal in one small theatre.
There was a sprinkling of men in the audience, like raisins in a cake, but most fans were female. Eager, on it and snapping up Bake Off Musical souvenirs such as cupcakes at £5 each, fridge magnets (£6), wooden spatulas for £10, and Star Baker T-shirts for £25.
Perhaps you can never have too much sugar, after all.
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