Review: Flames over New Jersey at the Crazy Coqs

Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel – Photo credit: David Loftus
Flames over New Jersey
The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel, 7th August. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Flames over New Jersey is a play/revue set in a speakeasy in Princeton, New Jersey in 1920’s. It had its London premiere, the first of two performances here, on Tuesday, and will transfer to Belly Laugh, Underbelly – Cowgate in Edinburgh for a week (Aug 12-18) at the festival. It’s part of Eton College’s Double Edge Drama‘s substantial presence at the Edinburgh Festival – there’s been coverage of that in the Guardian and the Mail .
The sense of a confident generation of future professionals very much on their way,  alluded to in these articles, was strong. There was a powerful, memorable, tightly-written climactic scene (writing credit Angus Graham-Campbell?) at the end of the evening in which  club-owner Toni Barido (Tom Gould) and the Chief Police who turns a blind eye (Jonah Hauer-King) went head-to-head very convincingly on issues such as payments to officials, deaths from lethal bootleg alcohol. The quality of delivery and the sheer stage presence of both young actors stays in the mind. The show was being performed in the round, this particular scene was played out at the bar, which was side-on to most of the audience, but it completely held the  audience’s attention.

Flames is a combination of play and revue in which the narrative is always vying for attention with the tunes. The narrative has a disadvantage: the music of the Great Gatsby era is, in the end perhaps, rather more appealing than its everyone-for-themselves ethics, which have sparked such the Gatsby Curve debate among American economists this year. Stick to the music then…

The music – Cab Calloway,Fats Waller, Ellington tunes, occasionally anachronistic perhaps –   served to showcase a young pianist Charlie Stacey, who gave off that same sense of a future professional well on his confident way. Before curtain-up he was breezing through jazz standards with like Out of Nowhere, with an extensive jazz vocabulary at his disposal. In the show he sang and band-led impressively. Some jazz students I hear don’t have enough impact as they begin and end a solo or a number. With Stacey those signals are already well-communicated, assured, unmistakeable. 

If the music and the story and the actors and the musicians in a show like this are all vying for attention,  another star, quietly refusing to be ignored, deserves to be mentioned: the room. Crazy Coqs (pictured above)  is at an early stage of being unveiled, it is being tested for its potential rather than truly launched, but it is a magical space of vivid white, black and red. The staff are ultra-discreet, professional and flawless. I doubt if you’ll find a weak spot in the wine list. Ian Shaw has played it and loves it. The Yesterday Girl’s blog has some nice pictures of the venue. To misquote the song, I’ve grown addicted to this place….

Categories: miscellaneous

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