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Review: Police Cops: The Musical (Southwark Playhouse Elephant)

Review by Daz Gale


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

One of the breakout hits of 2023 is back for another sentence as Police Cops The Musical transfers from one Southwark Playhouse building to their new larger neighbour for another sentence. Repeat offenders at the Edinburgh Fringe. The comedy troupe of Police Cops have been honing their craft ever since with their musical getting bigger and better with each outing. Last year, we gave it five stars and said our face hurt from laughing. Having been tweaked further since then, would the pain from laughter continue or would it just be painful?

 


The latest show from comedy troupe Police Cops has a familiar premise – a buddy cop story set in the 1980’s. While you may instantly think the story will go a certain way or have a specific tone to it, Police Cops will surprise you at every turn. In this story, new cop Jimmy Johnson partners up with disgraced Harrison in an attempt to solve the mysterious case of Hernandez and bring whoever it is to justice, meeting a variety of strange characters along the way. With murder, kidnapping and orphans all part of the story, it really is a laugh a minute… no, really!

 

Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson and Tom Roe are the Police Cops comedy troupe responsible for writing this musical as well as co-directing, and what a job they have done here. While they may say “Bad writing is so hard to do good with” in the show, there is nothing bad about this. The hit rate of jokes is unrivalled to any show I have seen in a long time, creating a show so funny, it should be against the law. Barely giving you enough time to catch your breath before the next rip-roaring riotous laugh occurs, its brilliant one-liners, ridiculously hilarious characters and ingenious sight gags ensures the laughs never stop – even during the most heartfelt and emotional of numbers’. A brilliantly inventive use of props always thrilled even if they did like to go wrong at times, though this added to the charm of the show.

 


While Police Cops The Musical is unashamedly a very stupid show, full of the silliest gags you may ever witness, it shouldn’t be underestimated the intelligence it takes to make something so stupid. Sometimes this gets overlooked when it comes to comedy shows and can often be part of why other shows fail to get the laughs out of their stupidity they had hoped – it takes a lot of skill and cleverness to craft something as crazy as this show and in that respect, they have more intelligence than most shows.

 

While the material shines in its own right, it’s the breadth and versatility of the cast that elevates this into the supernova it has become. Zachary Hunt leads the pack as our hero, Jimmy Johnson. A captivating lead actor, he holds the show together, impressing both solo and as part of the group. The remaining four take on a variety of side characters from Bin Cop to Morph Man and the truly scene-stealing clapping guy deserving a round of applause of their own. As well as these, they all get their own main characters to spend most of their time.  Tom Roe is addictively watchable as Harrison, whose dark past leads to some of the most humorous moments, unless you’re the poor unsuspecting person in the front row, that is.



Nathan Parkinson spends most of his time in the show as Chief of Police, Malloy though it is the many other guises he takes on throughout that prove the most hilarious, from an unexpected portrayal of an animal to the star turn as Morph man, destined for his own spinoff in years to come. Natassia Bustamante gets two equally memorable roles as Gonzalez as Jimmy’s sister Billie, whose fate I won’t spoil after her big solo number ‘Unexpectedly Die’. The phenomenal cast are completed by Melinda Orengo as Rosa whose comic timing wows as much as her vocals in perhaps the funniest musical number of the night ‘Something More Meaningful’.

 

Speaking of the music, Ben Adams is responsible for being part of boyband A1, an iconic Eurovision entry and hit musical Eugenius and has added another successful credit to his sleeve, writing the music here. While the comedy is at the heart of Police Cops The Musical, there is that pesky M word in the title and that is where shows like this can falter somewhat. Not the case here as Ben’s fittingly 80s inspired music provides banger after banger (and not the kind little Carlos steals) with opening number ‘The US Eighties’ setting the tone perfectly. Addictively catchy, new songs have been added for this production with The Book of Mormon-esque ‘By The Book’ an instant classic. ‘Hard On’ is up there with ‘Defying Gravity’ as the best act one finales of all time with its arousing nature hard to beat, while if you can leave the theatre without singing the far too catchy ‘Americant’, you’re a better person than me. With Hunt, Parkinson and Roe responsible for the lyrics, they are as addictive and riotous as you expect with lyrics such as “Blowjob frenzy, death by Henry” (it will make sense when you see it) complementing Ben Adams’ music in a surprising but sensational way.

 


With improvisation a big part of Police Cops, there are several unscripted moments in the show to seamlessly blend with the locked in narrative, providing the most chaotic moments but ones you can’t help enjoying, especially as the cast react to hearing the random lines the others come up with. The best example of this is Tom Roe’s semi-improvised speech about his father’s sweet shop. What do they sell, you might ask? It changes every night so there is no telling what utterly mad items they might mention. Also look out for a sequence between Tom and Zachary Hunt as they discuss why they love a certain restaurant so much. With the improvised moments giving some of the biggest laughs, it showcased why this comedy troupe deserve to be at the top of their game and left me longing for more. Also look out for the best bit of audience participation you will ever experience with one lucky (or should that be unlucky) victim who will find themselves changed for the better after their time with the Police Cops.

 

Another element that sets Police Cops apart from the other is in their movement. With an astonishing inclusion of gymnastics throughout, particularly from nimble cast members Hunt and Bustamante, it is always visually exciting and not at all what you might expect from a comedy musical. Part of that is the responsibility of Olivier award winning choreographer Matt Cole who lends his phenomenal talents once more to a flawless effect. Andrew Exeter’s playful set design gives the Police Cops plenty of opportunities for visual gags while his lighting is used to amazing effect, particularly in a climactic strobing sequence while one visual gag in ‘Americant’ requires an ingenious use of lighting.

 


An obvious comparison to the Police Cops troupe and this musical would be SpitLip and their unstoppable Operation Mincemeat. Years of working on that show and meticulous rewrites led to its now highly successful West End run. There is the sense that Police Cops The Musical is on exactly the same path. Picking up a large number of loyal supporters, affectionately known as Amerifans (many of whom are also huge supporters of that other brilliant show), it feels like the natural trajectory for this increasingly exceptional show is its own West End run. It certainly deserves to get there and be seen by as many people as humanly possible – after all, there’s nothing this show American’t do.

 

 

When you put Police Cops The Musical on paper (and smell it to see where it came from), it really has no right to be this good. Comedy with improve, 80s pop songs and gymnastics? All great on their own but together could prove a hot mess? However, when you have a comedy troupe as hot as Police Cops, not only are they going to throw everything they have at making the best damn show ever, they are probably going to achieve it successfully too. An absolutely phenomenal piece of theatre for all its many charms, this is one of the most exciting new musicals in recent years and one that can’t be faulted at all. Funny, stupid and clever, this arrestingly good show really might be the best damn show ever.

 

Police Cops The Musical plays at Southwark Playhouse Elephant until 20th April. Tickets from www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

 

Photos by Pamela Raith

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