In this year of nostalgic celebration, as HM the Queen marks an astonishing 70 years on the British throne, what better time to present that most British of shows – Me and My Girl.
Irving Stage Company returns to Theatre Royal from 26 to 30 April with this ever-popular musical comedy, the tale of a Cockney costermonger who is found to be the heir to an earldom. The hilarious attempts of his snobbish relations to rid him of his working-class ways and working-class girlfriend are told through songs and dances that are instantly recognisable and part of our nation’s culture.
When this show had its West End premiere 85 years ago in December 1937, the 11-year-old Princess Elizabeth had already known for a year that she would one day be queen. Me and My Girl starred the popular actor Lupino Lane, a member of a famous show business family, who also directed and produced the show that would run for more than 1,600 performances.
It has always been popular, with numerous revivals. In 1985 a new production revised by Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent began an eight-year run in London with Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson in the lead roles of Bill Snibson and Sally Smith. It transferred to Broadway and garnered major Olivier and Tony awards. It is this version that Irving’s 30- strong cast and live orchestra is bringing to Theatre Royal.
Sometimes referred to as The ‘Lambeth Walk’ Musical, that is the number best known from the show, which also features ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ and ‘Leaning on a Lamppost’. The ‘Lambeth Walk’ was an East End street dance known from late Victorian times but updated by Noel Gay and Douglas Furber for the 1937 show. Hackney boy Lupino Lane said the song “expresses the London spirit”, and his thumbs-out cockney strut made it even more popular during the Second World War.
The song was adopted as a national morale-booster, joined in with gusto across the class divide from Mayfair ballrooms to dance halls. It was used to great satirical effect when set against newsreel of goose-stepping German soldiers – a joke in dark times that has been hailed as the first-ever viral video.
Julie Merrick, Chair of Irving Stage Company and a member of the cast as the imperious Lady Battersby said, “We have been wanting to present Me and My Girl for years and are so delighted to be able to bring it to the Theatre Royal. The show’s enduring popularity is no surprise, it’s a funny, heart-warming romance that pokes gentle fun at the British class system. It may be set in the 1930s but we are still as fascinated by this world as we ever were – the second Downton Abbey film is due to be released in cinemas during our show week.
Our cast has members of all ages, yet everyone seems to know the ‘Lambeth Walk’, and you can see why generations have enjoyed strutting their Cockney stuff. We know the audience will sing along, it’s impossible not to! The score has a number of lovely songs, both comic and touching, and we are excited to bring our production to the stage.”