Theatre Review: BONNIE & CLYDE – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Katie Tonkinson and Alex James-Hatton in BONNIE & CLYDE. Photo: Richard Davenport

Powered by stellar performances, a catchy score, and striking visuals, BONNIE & CLYDE is a thrilling musical retelling of the infamous outlaws’ rise and fall.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Prison breaks, Ford V8s, and vigilante justice are spread across this murderous musical retelling of BONNIE & CLYDE. The story highlights the couple’s separate stories from their humble beginnings, explores how the lawless Barrow Gang was formed, and spotlights how the infamous duo pushed their luck too far.

Offering a surprisingly informative musical, director Nick Winston shapes the story from its 1930s Great Depression setting, holding mostly blacked-out staging that layers dilapidated hideouts and a bullet-ridden backdrop on the outskirts of the Palace Theatre stage. To give more context to the time, images including a tattered American flag, real news clippings and the self-taken and comically incriminating photos of Bonnie and Clyde are projected onto the centre stage throughout the show.

The cast of BONNIE & CLYDE. Photo: Richard Davenport

Winston underscores how the charismatic couple were not only in a world of their own during the Dust Bowl era but were promoted in times of foreclosures and famine as the trendy underdogs fighting the system. Bonnie and Clyde’s path follows a story driven by self-righteous revenge, but Winston’s production also plays up their positive perception by including a blend of catchy blues, gospel and rock songs that focus on the relatable criminal’s dreams and desires.

Katie Tonkinson, as Bonnie, has a wonderful, belting voice. Her opening track, PICTURE SHOW, immediately presents her as an independent, poetry-writing daydreamer, later only matched by the witty, one-liner slinger Alex James-Hatton as Clyde.

The vivacity and charm of James-Hatton and Tonkinson power this production, keeping this fast-paced, high-stakes story immensely enjoyable. Despite outgunning the cops and leaving behind candid photos of themselves posing with cigars and guns in hand, the doomed lovers are troublingly easy to sympathise with.

Philip Witcomb’s costume design ensures that the criminals make a life of crime look glamorous. Ivan Menchell’s story is less about the secret, shady underworld of robbers and instead leans heavily on being a family affair. Shaped around class, the media, and the law, Bonnie and Clyde’s rebellious chemistry is seen to have slowly driven them into a life of crime.

Alex James-Hatton in BONNIE & CLYDE. Photo: Richard Davenport

Looking to escape poverty and get revenge on the prison that turned him from a petty criminal into a murderous killer, the tale moves into fulfilling Clyde’s revenge fantasy. It showcases the unreachable American Dream for most during the Great Depression. Yet violent acts are scarcely seen, and the show includes more ballads that slow the pace than honest scenes that reveal why this couple really became famous.

With the help of his brother, Buck (Sam Ferriday) and side characters like The Preacher (Aj Lewis)helping to deliver the message of righteousness and absolution, the soundtrack does deliver some fantastic hits. Performing the gospel track GOD’S ARMS ARE ALWAYS OPEN, Lewis’s striking voice breaks up the folk-heavy playlist of songs like, YOU’RE GOIN’ BACK TO JAIL.

BONNIE & CLYDE opens and closes with a bang. The stellar performances blended with the outrageous drama of this true crime tale, offer a guilty pleasure that’s hard to resist. Whether you side with or against them, the inseparable outlaws will definitely leave a permanent impression.

BONNIE & CLYDE plays at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, until 11 May 2024.