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THE BAKER’S WIFE – Drayton Arms Theatre, London.

The Baker's WifeThe Baker’s Wife, directed by Marc Kelly, is a quaint and whimsical look at how life in a sleepy rural French village can be altered by the smallest of events.  After the death of the previous baker, the villagers have been without break for several weeks. They eagerly await the arrival of the new man to take up the post but get more than they bargained for when he arrives with his beautiful and much younger wife.

Aimable Casagnet (Gary Bland) is a devoted husband, but his wife Genevieve (Holli Page Farr) is not quite as infatuated with him as he is with her. She grows restless living a quiet life and her eye begins to wander, falling upon handyman Dominique (Adam Redford). His eye wanders back and he is determined to have her for himself, whatever the cost. When Genevieve leaves, the Baker is unable to cope and as his life falls apart, so too does the bakery and in turn the village.

Stephen Schwarz’s music is perhaps not what you would expect from him. Those familiar with his most successful as widely known work Wicked, will be surprised by the restraint shown here. The music and lyrics for the most part are gentle, even the arguments are witty and ‘proper’ and the passion somewhat innocent. This restraint is to the show’s credit. It is not a spectacle, but an exploration of the relationships within a small community, and specifically the problems that develop within marriage.

It is an old-fashioned Musical in many ways, but this is not always a positive thing. Some of the themes in Joseph Stein’s book sit uncomfortably when viewed by a modern audience. Traditional gender roles feature heavily in the story and jokes and remarks that amuse in the first act begin to grow tiring in the second act. Set in 1935 before gender equality became the norm, the attitudes and behaviour of the characters are understandable, but all the same, the out dated sensibility at times detracts from the air of frivolous fun.

Ultimately, long-standing neighbourhood feuds are resolved and put-upon wives stand up to themselves as everyone works together to bring back the Baker’s wife. Realising the error of her ways, Genevieve returns, restoring harmony to the village and break to their tables.

There is a lot to like about The Baker’s Wife. The music, played on a sole piano by Musical Director Kieran Stallard, is charming and melodic. Highlights include the soaring and lyrical ‘Meadowlark’, and ‘Bread’, a joyous ode to the loaf. With the smell of baked goods wafting in the air of the auditorium, it would not be a good idea to go in hungry! In all, despite a story that feels a little misjudged, The Baker’s Wife has some wonderful music and strong performances all round.

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Reviewed 19/06/2015

By Catherine Duffy

16th June – 4th July 2015
The Drayton Arms Theatre, London SW5 0LJ.

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