The Producers

The Producers (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

In 1979 I really enjoyed going to the cinema complete with a bag of Revels and a giant bucket of popcorn so I could see Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson.

That post-apocalyptic thriller has now been turned into an unusual stage musical called The Producers. As with so many of these screen to stage transfers much of the original story has been lost in translation, and I didn’t quite understand all of it, but there is no denying it was very funny indeed.

The original film and its sequels quickly became cult classics, so it is really no surprise that someone should think it a good idea to turn it into a play – but it was particularly daring for Mel Gibson to agree to it becoming a musical.

Cleverly it is done as a sort of play within a play, in which “Mad Max” Bialystock (played as a sort of gangster by Cory English, who is actually American, so I got a bit confused) tries to put on a musical about his life in a dystopian Australian outback. He doesn’t have much money so can’t afford to use lots of motorcycle props (although there is one, used by the leader of the Nazi-style Acolytes gang “Bubba” Liebkind), but he manages to call in a lot of favours in order to stage the show. With his partner, Goose Bloom (played by Jason Manford, who is normally a comedian), and helped by “Fifi” De Bris (played by David Bedella, who was really good in some other shows I’ve seen) things reached an outrageous yet hilarious conclusion as the musical was staged, complete with Nazis playing the motorcycle gang.

It is possible that you don’t really need to have seen the original films in order to understand exactly what is going on in this production, though for those of us in the know there were lots of bits that had careful nods back to the source. I really liked the way the film’s Main Force police patrol were portrayed as old ladies in this musical, representing how run down law and order had become.

It seemed clear to me that many in the audience were expecting something quite different, though I was glad to see I wasn’t alone in dressing up in my motorbike leathers – a number of other people got into the swing of the occasion by coming dressed as Nazis, which only makes sense if you see this production as the film didn’t really have Nazis in it, even though Nightrider and Toecutter were actually really nasty in the film.

Some of the songs were in German, to show how different that group was to the goodies. I especially liked it when Bubba (played by Phill Jupitus, who is often on TV although I don’t really like him, so I find myself turning over to Masterchef or something) sang a German number that translated as “Have you ever heard of elastic bands?”

Director Matthew White is to be congratulated for being so daring, as I doubt many people would even have considered being so bold. I do hope Mel Gibson enjoyed it – I think they should turn other films of his into musicals, such as Lethal Weapon and Braveheart. I bet it would work really well to have some of the songs from Brigadoon (which isn’t done much these days as it is quite boring) put into a musical version of Braveheart, with such songs as “Almost Like Being in Bannockburn.”

Needless to say the stage version of Mad Max doesn’t always work and is often baffling, but when I got home I watched the films again and was able to piece together in my mind just what they thought they were doing. It’s a bit long though – I suppose this is because they were trying to combine all three films into the one show – but it did make me miss the last bus and I had to stand for ages in the Old Steine trying to thumb a lift back home.