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Bonnie & Clyde @ The Palace Theatre, Manchester review – It’s the American dream, sugar

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Featured image: Mark Waugh

The tale of two kids from small-town America who became the most notorious folk heroes in the US, Bonnie & Clyde takes to Manchester’s Palace Theatre as part of its UK tour, after two successful seasons in London’s West End. This award-winning production, having gained a mass following not unlike the couple’s own fame, shares a story in which love, crime and adventure come hand in hand.

As guests bustle into the theatre, an ominous trail of smoke drifts out of a large, bullet shaped hole in the centre of the stage backdrop, a shock of a welcome. Most of the audience is well aware of the story behind the scene of this crime. The slight delay to the performance does not dampen the crowd’s spirit, and the anticipation is palpable – the audience know they are in for a treat.

Set during the Great Depression in the Southern US, Bonnie Parker, a restless waitress with big ambitions meets the cheeky and charming Clyde Barrow, recently released from prison. The two youngsters are immediately attracted to each other (or what each represents to the other). The deal is sealed with the prolonged kiss they share shortly after meeting, setting the slightly risque tone for the performance. The bond between Bonnie (Katie Tonkinson) and Clyde (Danny Hatchard) only grows throughout the show.

Both craving excitement and fame, the couple are fuelled not by malicious intentions, but by their thirst for adventure, and they embark on a mission to chase their dreams, which quickly turns into a life of crime. Both protagonists are lovable independently, and even more so together; they’re a youthful, rebellious, charming pair, who bring this qualities out in each other.

The heat between these two characters is unavoidable, their love affair both fiery and poetic. Passion is never far from violence in this story, with the first major act of violence commited at the hands of Clyde in prison, erupting with blood spurting all over the stage to a seductive rock and roll soundtrack. Clyde’s voice becomes deeper, bolder, richer. By the interval, despite the violence having begun, the audience already ship the couple. 

After Clyde escapes from prison, the two are forced to stay on the run and they enter into a downward spiral, resorting to robbery and murder to survive. Bonnie reappears, no longer in her girlish frocks from the beginning scenes, but this time dressed completely in black, with her hair dyed red – she has matured, or lost her initial naivety, yet she’s still delightfully delusional. 

Their first bank robbery scene is a highly comic affair, involving a dramatic fainting and a bank that turns out to have no money (echoing the bleak economic backdrop), and by this point, Bonnie and Clyde are equally complicit in their own fame – as with their demise. As their fame grows, their inevitable end looms larger.

The set design is a slightly chaotic assemblage of projected image and physical objects which appear from either side and drop from the ceiling, which somehow works, conjuring rapid switches in scene. The stage transforms in a matter of seconds from a garage to a diner, from a house to a bank. The choreography is detailed and delightful – in the hair salon scene in particular, comic reactions are aroused from the timing of simple gestures alone. The vocal delivery is equally sensitive, with subtle variations in voice inviting a whole new layer to the performance.

Bonnie & Clyde is currently showing at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 11th May.

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Tara Morony

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