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Review: The SpongeBob Musical (Tour)

★★★

Sorry to burst your bubble, but I did not enjoy the SpongeBob musical as much as I thought I would.

Photo by Mark Senior


Currently having its UK premiere, the show about everybody’s favourite square-panted sponge is based on the hit Nickelodeon cartoon. It features all the recognisable characters: a stoner-esque low confidence Patrick Star (Irfan Damani), a smart Sandy Cheeks (Chrissie Bhima) and the dissatisfied Squidward (Tom Read Wilson), as a volcano eruption threatens to destroy their beloved Bikini Bottom.


Lewis Cornay in the title role is a riot - the very embodiment of our nasally anti-hero. He “rocks” out on a ukulele donning a goofy smile and throws himself around with the type of energy typically reserved for animated skits. Without doubt, his performance is the highlight of the show.


The wider cast features a ridiculously well-cast Divina De Campo as the villainous Plankton and breakout star Hannah Lowther as his computer wife Karen. Lowther and the larger ensemble really put in a shift with quick changes and quick choreo - the yo-yo back and forth was enough to make me feel sea sick.


And partly, this is where SpongeBob falls down. The larger-than-life characters each have their own smaller plots that adds to the general chaos of the show. Pearl (Sarah Freer) wants to be a rockstar, Mr Krabs (Richard J Hunt), as ever, is out for cash and the Mayor (Rebecca Lisewski) just wants out. Between the jumbled dialogue, swamped by the large theatre, is a catalogue of songs that unfortunately never have chance to grow. With writing credits by Sara Bareilles, Panic! At The Disco and The Flaming Lips; there’s rodeo rhymes, raps and rock, but most only exist in the moment and had floated from memory before curtain down. The house band however are big fun and play a part in the story on stage.


Cornay’s rendition of “(Just A) Simple Sponge” is an exception and a stylish use of neon sponges against a black set really takes us to the heart of the character, whilst Squidward's "I'm Not A Loser" was a Broadway bonanza.


Credit really must be given to Director Tara Overfield Wilkinson and Choreographer Fabian Aloise who made the sea creatures pop. Squidward’s extra tentacles, shimmering sardines and SpongeBob’s rigid limbs especially were especially comical along with the foley sound - provided by members of the cast with squeaky dog toys and maracas on a side stage microphone.


Despite this, Kyle Jarrow's written jokes largely sunk. It was the physical comedy; the shaking as Pearl pounds into a conversation and the small details of Gary on a skateboard, that made the show feel special. Fans will be excited to see familiar memes and phrases come to life, lit by Ben Bull's triumphant disco lighting.


The updates to liken the impending doom of Bikini Bottom to the Covid-19 pandemic was surprisingly effective. Being placed under “Code Orange” the lockdown signage was eerily familiar and so were the character traits presented. Among the toilet roll thieves and binge drinkers were the xenophobes deniers that rile against outsider scientist, Sandy.


They also touched on another global disaster - climate change. Sarah Mercade's costumes are functional yet inventive takes on mainstream fashion - simply calling out for a cosplay (!). Whilst Steve Howell's set framed the stage with neon light bubbles - though unfortunately didn’t fill it with them till right at the end. Both used recycled plastics as an important eco statement.


With the SpongeBob musical, it's best not to get tide down with it's short-comings and just seas the opportunity for a bonkers night at the theatre.


SpongeBob plays at Curve before continuing its UK tour and a stint in London

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