Following a playful opening number pondering the origins of baking, the scene is set with one of the show’s best songs The Bake Off Tent chronicling the significance of the hallowed white tent to generations of contestants. Director Rachel Kavanaugh rarely takes the action outside the tent itself, which is represented as a skeletal frame by designer Alice Power, with each contestant manning their own baker’s station, as seen on screen.
Charlotte Wakefield as Gemma (centre) and cast in The Great British Bake Off Musical
We meet the contestants: a roll-call of the archetypes you’d expect to find thrown together for a series of GBBO, chosen for their heartstring-tugging backstories as much as their charisma. Among them, there’s an aggressively competitive Cambridge University student, a Cockney granny, a vegan hipster and a single dad, but it's back-up contestant Gemma (a highly likeable Charlotte Wakefield, with an impressive singing range), a carer from Blackpool, who we’re led to root for from the get-go. The bakes aren’t all that’s at stake here either; there’s a love story bubbling away in the kitchen after dark.
Of course, Bake Off wouldn’t be Bake Off without the imposing presence of its judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. In Brunger and Cleary’s show, they’ve been renamed Phil and Pam, but portrayed as hammed-up versions of their almost-namesakes. Dressed in biker leathers, John Owen-Jones plays Phil with a soft-edged gruffness and gusto, his operatic background (he clocked up nearly 2,000 performances as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera) warbling through. As Pam, Haydn Gwynne is a parade of bold colours and blocky jewellery, who steals the show with her cartwheeling lead song Keep On Keeping On. Together, they’re a charming double act, and their joint number I’d Never Be Me Without You, crooned to one another over canned gin and tonics, is a delight.
Haydn Gwynne (Pam Lee) centre in The Great British Bake Off Musical
Littered with in-jokes, The Great British Bake Off Musical is essentially a parody of the TV show, saved by loveable characters and heaps of self-awareness. There are playful stabs at the show’s deserters (‘Mel and Sue who?’) and affectionate references to other prime-time telly hits (‘This is meant to be Bake Off, not Married at First Sight’). There’s also a duo of yin-and-yang presenters, Kim (a vivacious Zoe Birkett, who cut her teeth on reality TV show Pop Idol) and Jim (a deadpan Scott Paige, with a cracking voice) who appear between challenges to drum up hype and provide woolly snippets of history, like the age-old battle of whether scone should be pronounced 'skoan' or 'skonn'. Props to Power’s steady stream of cake designs, including life-sized, scone-shaped wrestling outfits.
The show is not perfect. It loses its way in carnival number Slap It Like That, and its panto-style foul play is a bit naff. Some sob stories, too, are overegged, and while Francessa’s song Grow about her struggles to get pregnant is powerfully sung by Cat Sandison, some of its rhymes (‘I wanted you to grow / Now I’ve replaced you with dough’) are painfully crass.
Damian Humbley (Ben) and Charlotte Wakefield (Gemma) in The Great British Bake Off Musical
Still, there are more cockle-warming hits than duds here, like the tear-jerker duet between Ben (Damian Humbley) and daughter Lily (performed with sweet braveness by Maisy Mein on press night), My Dad.
Contrary to what many producers thought prior to GBBO’s eventual commissioning in 2009, we Brits will tune in year after year to watch a reality TV show about baking. Now, the West End is craving a slice of the action. If this musical gets audiences off sofas and into theatres, surely that’s no bad thing. So, all rise for The Great British Bake Off Musical.
|What||The Great British Bake Off Musical, Noël Coward Theatre review|
|Where||Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
25 Feb 23 – 13 May 23, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|