Review - Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory

When it was announced that Olivier and BAFTA award winning star Sheridan Smith would be taking on the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate factory, it seemed that pretty much every theatre fan in the UK set their sights on securing tickets for the limited run. As a result, when booking opened on the 17th of August 2015, Funny Girl became the fastest ever show to sell out at the Menier Chocolate factory, with the very last tickets having been snapped up by 10:30 in the morning of the same day! You can therefore imagine my exhilaration when I managed to book myself a premium seat for one of the show’s last previews… and then my utter dismay when, after 3 months of waiting eagerly for the day to come, thanks to a series of train delays I was unable to make it! 

Thankfully, during the preview period a few more seats at the far ends on some rows were made available, and my friend quickly snapped a pair up for us...

For anyone unfamiliar with Funny Girl, the plot follows real life stage star Fanny Brice’s transformation from anomalous wannabe chorus girl to full-blown stage sensation, and tells the story of her doomed relationship with notorious gambler Nick Arnstein. It’s a tale which spans dozens of years and countless locations, from the streets of Brooklyn to the bright lights of Broadway, and because of this, I was sceptical about how the show would play in a small space like the Menier. However, while watching the show I found that the relatively small stage allowed the audience to get up close and personal with the story and its protagonist Fanny, played by the dazzling Sheridan Smith. This is part of the reason why, although I’m ecstatic that Funny Girl will be transferring to the Savoy Theatre in April 2016, I’m glad I saw it at the Menier first. It was truly sensational to be sat just meters away from Smith as she brought Fanny Brice to life before us, and really allowed for all of the actors to give more nuanced, delicate performances. 

Sheridan Smith charmed the audience with ease from the moment she stepped on stage. Her performance as Fanny Brice was both engaging and hugely affecting. Prior to seeing Smith in the role, it was hard to imagine anyone matching the showstopping performance of Barbra Streisand, who originated the role both in the film and onstage, and while Streisand is definitely more of a divaesque powerhouse performer, Smith's voice is much more similar to the real Fanny Brice's both when singing and talking, and I personally saw a lot Baby Snooks (one of the characters which Fanny Brice famously portrayed) in Smith's portrayal of Brice, which was very exciting.

Of course, the moment everyone was waiting for was 'Don’t Rain On My Parade' which ended act 1 and was met with unanimous rapturous applause, however, 'People Who Need People' was an absolutely heartbreaking number too, while the audience laughed through the entirety of 'You Are Woman (I Am Man)' thanks to Sheridan Smith’s faultless comic timing and physical comedy prowess. Smith truly gave a masterful musical theatre performance and made it impossible to pinpoint on standout moment.

While Smith undoubtedly gave the standout performance, there was not a weak link in the whole company. The charming and silky voiced Darius Campbell cut a dashing figure as Nick Arnstein, Joel Montague was endearing as Fanny’s friend Eddie, and Marilyn Cutts was fantastically droll as Fanny’s Mother. With such an outstanding level of talent it’s no wonder that the Menier’s Christmas musicals are celebrated year after year.

All in all, I am thrilled that I got the chance to see Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory this Christmas, and while its run at the Menier Chocolate Factory is completely sold out, I’d definitely recommend checking the website if you are interested in seeing it before it transfers, as occasionally some seats do get returned and become available online. Failing that, tickets are already on sale for the West End transfer, so go and book yours as soon as possible because this show is not one to be missed!