Little Miss Sunshine – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Rebecca Hitchon, June 2019
“For better or worse, we are family” is the key line of Sheryl, the mother of Little Miss Sunshine’s Hoover family (played by Lucy O’Byrne). It perfectly sums up the message of the show: we can’t choose our family but they still mean something to us, as much as we might be stuck with them. In the case of Little Miss Sunshine, this was in an out-of-shape yellow camper van for the 800-mile journey from New Mexico to California.
Based on the Oscar-winning film, the show follows the emotional, as well as physical journey, of the Hoover family as they take young daughter, Olive, to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. With a van of hugely differing characters: a wild grandad, a stereotypical grumpy teenager, a suicidal uncle, parents who have big dreams but feel lost and the ever-hopeful Olive, it was never going to be an easy ride.
“Dark, adult humour”
The best humour came from the family dynamic created by this mix of personalities and the bizarre conversations (and arguments) that were somehow still recognisable from our own experiences around the dinner table or on a long car journey. The audience were quickly introduced to the idea that despite the parents’ best efforts to protect Olive from the crazy issues dealt with by the family, she still knows a lot of what’s going on, allowing for some hilarious dark, adult humour.
It was a small production in the sense that the cast was made up of the main protagonists then a few secondary characters who switched in their roles, and a bigger stage therefore grander set may have led to more stand-out moments. However, the talented cast (with a wealth of experience under their belts) really carried the show and the set was inventive, with just a camper van base, seats and the revolving stage used to mostly create setting.
Mark Moraghan, who played Grandpa Hoover, gave the most confident performance and received a brilliant audience reaction with ‘The Happiest Guy In The Van’, in which he encouraged his moody grandson to “have sex, don’t sit with your hands in your lap; have sex, don’t dwell on your family’s crap”.
Nonetheless, there was no doubt that the most explosive reaction was to Olive’s song at the beauty contest, ‘Shake Your Badonkadonk’, which Sophie Hartley-Booth tackled superbly. Whilst her leopard print catsuit and risqué dancing shocked the audience (and the Hoover family), it equally provided the most laughs and had the audience clapping and the Hoovers dancing along.
“Night of adventure”
More of a look at the issues related to beauty contests would have been interesting, despite some reference to bullying and Olive’s insecurities about her weight. Yet, this would have probably had to have been explored after the interval, in which a huge amount of character development and change in the characters’ dynamic was most important.
Even though the second half was more captivating than the first, the narrative and message of Little Miss Sunshine was the star of the show throughout, making the show a must-see for anyone that wants a night of adventure and of course, laughter.
images: Richard H Smith