Waitress UK Tour - Theatre Royal Plymouth Review
Updated: Apr 28
Let’s go back a couple of years, and Waitress the musical was earning rapturous applause on the West End, snuggled in rather nicely in the Adelphi Theatre, the smell of apples and cinnamon wafting through the air. Now, sadly Waitress was one of the casualties of the pandemic, a show that didn’t get a proper closing night and seemingly disappeared in a flurry of enforced closed doors. Thankfully, after quite a long wait, the UK Tour hit the road and brought this sweet, heart-warming and heart wrenching taste of musical pie back into our lives and whilst the Theatre Royal Plymouth may not have smelt like freshly baked apple pies, the cherry pie crust curtain certainly was a sight for sore eyes.
Waitress tells the story of Jenna (Chelsea Halfpenny), a waitress in a small but much-loved pie shop who dreams of a new and better life when she discovers that she is pregnant by her overbearing and violent husband Earl (Tamlyn Henderson). With help from her best friends, the confident Becky (Sandra Marvin) and the shy and awkward Dawn (Evelyn Hawkins), she sets her sights on winning a pie baking contest with her delicious but strangely named creations, but when she meets her obstetrician Dr Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis), a spanner is well and truly thrown into the works.
The role of Jenna is perhaps one of the toughest in musical theatre, with the character going through a rollercoaster of emotions and appearing in the vast majority of scenes, but Halfpenny takes it all in her stride and makes it all look easy. She is able to show both sides of Jenna, the troubled wife desperately searching for a way out and the fun-loving cheeky side who loves to enjoy herself with her friends. Her rendition of ‘She Used to Be Mine’ soars to the rafters effortlessly, you could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium throughout. Tamlyn Henderson’s Earl is the villain that everyone loves to hate
Matt Jay-Willis’ take on the role of Dr Pomatter is lovable, rather awkward, and geeky, but that made the character more humorous in my opinion. His chemistry with Halfpenny’s Jenna is believable and sweet, with ‘You Matter to Me’ pulling at the heartstrings. As Becky, Sandra Marvin gets some big laughs, her character unafraid to boss the pie shop chef Cal (Christopher D. Hunt) around and put people in their places whilst Evelyn Hoskins’ Dawn is simply adorable. Her and George Crawford as Ogie make a delightful pair with Crawford earning many a big laugh as the comical character, especially with his poetry and clog dancing.
The ensemble performs a variety of different roles including diner customers, doctors’ patients, and hospital workers, flitting in and out of scenes and bringing the set to life as they pass Jenna ingredients for her pie inventions and fill the diner with energy. The set is simple, moved around in a slick manner with the band and cast members wheeled on and off on a series of platforms and a highway and sky backdrop illustrating the small town that Jenna calls home. The diner and doctors’ office is bathed in a warm light, a stark difference to the dark bleakness of the little house she shares with Earl, really setting the scene and the mood.
This is a show that is full of both laugh out loud moments and serious scenes, balanced beautifully throughout as the audience easily wills Jenna on to succeed. We want to see her dreams come true, see her find the better life that she dreams about and bakes into her pies. If I had to nit-pick, I would say that perhaps the volume levels were a little bit off in the first act, especially in ‘Bad Idea’ when Jay-Willis and Halfpenny were singing face to face, but this was rectified for the second act. A few slight changes have been made since the London production, with Dawn’s American flag now a LGBTQIA flag, with the backdrop briefly showing rainbow when the flag in shown, much to the delight of the approving audience, and I noticed a brief much touching show of support to Ukraine during ‘When He Sees Me’ with a diner customer wearing mismatched blue and yellow socks along with a tribute to Broadway cast member Nick Cordero who passed from away from Covid-19, in the naming of one of Jenna’s creations, the big ol’ slice of live your life pie.
In conclusion, Waitress is a beautiful blend of heart-warming and heart-breaking, the story of a women who wants nothing more than to better herself and live a good life. Laughter meets sadness in a brutally honest way, creating relatable moments and characters. Perhaps a show more suited to a female audience, but still earning chuckles from the males in the audience. It is a slick production, full of great performances from its cast.
Images found via Google, not my own