The point of Legally Blonde – or at least this version of Legally Blonde, directed by Anthony Williams – isn’t so much what happens, as how it feels. Personally, I think that’s one of the things that makes theatre different from other modes of storytelling – the experience of being in a room with the rest of the audience, the rest of the performers, and sharing the feelings, the electricity. And this production goes all out, precisely as it should do: there’s technicolour set, dozens upon dozens of costume changes, frequent full-company dance breaks, glitter balls over the auditorium. The lighting designer has clearly had a field day. The result is exuberant, lively, and just all round a really great room to spend three hours in.
If it’s got the atmosphere down pat, where Legally Blonde is a little bit wobblier is the nuance. That feels like a strange thing to say – what I mean is that elements of the first half in particular tip from exuberant into pantomime. Legally Blonde is at its best when you feel for the characters, for Lucie Jones’s Elle Woods discovering that she’s more capable in a wider range of ways than she’d realised, for David Barrett’s Emmett, learning what it means not to take people at face value, for Rita Simons’s fantastic Paulette, who steals the show in the best way every time she’s onstage. But it takes a while for most of the characters to settle into themselves and feel three-dimensional, feeling perhaps like they’re relying on prior knowledge of the story – the film, basically – to get the audience on side. In that way, the constant dance interludes are a bit counterproductive: great for establishing tone, but once the tone is set, missing the opportunity to build characterisation. Again, it’s about the atmosphere.
It is my contention – and I say this with two law degrees and a whole lot of Elle-based empathy under my belt – that Legally Blonde is a feminist juggernaut of the early noughties, inspirational to more women I know than almost any other film I can think of. It’s a little bit jarring in 2017 to realise that (for instance) sexual harassment in the workplace is so ubiquitous that it’s even a plot point in Legally Blonde. But perhaps this year of all years, we need this story of women being capable and driven, working together, and doing the best they can do. And perhaps the most important things to take away from that are the feelings: capability, self-respect, and enthusiasm.
Legally Blonde runs until Saturday 2nd December at Festival Theatre.