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Posts Tagged ‘Guy Retallack’

Happy Ending

I’m not sure where to begin. A ‘musical’ set in a chemotherapy day ward where four ladies are being treated…..

Well, firstly, four songs sung to a backing track (one of which features cancer represented by a Spanish dancer with lobster claw hands!) does not constitute a ‘new musical’; not even a ‘play with songs’  Frankly, it would have been better to dump the songs; they add nothing, distract from the narrative and dent the credibility of the piece altogether. We have three very different patients – the religious one who has faith that god will look after her, the fighter who’s been fighting since her birth in Auschwitz (!) and the old hippy who will believe in any alternative therapy going. They are joined by a famous actress concerned about being recognised and in denial about her condition. When she decides, in Act II, to abort her treatment she causes quite a stir. The remaining characters are a heart-of-gold nurse, a heart-of-gold hairdresser / wig-fitter and a cold-as-ice doctor and his two naive trainees.

There is, in the second half, a worthwhile debate about the right to die, but it’s buried in the unnecessary music, stereotypical characterisations and clichéd dialogue. Designer Simone Romaniun has created a realistic setting. I felt sorry for the eight fine actors who did their best with what they’d been given. I don’t object to the subject matter being staged, but I didn’t like the treatment – not because it lightened the subject, but because it didn’t do it justice. I’m struggling to understand why a seasoned professional like director Guy Retallack decided to adapt and stage it. I understand they’ve lost actors and creatives en route to the first night, so it doesn’t seem to be a happy company and I felt that came through on stage and in the audience at Monday’s première.

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Well, it did. The true story of a couple of young psychopaths who kill a boy for thrills may not seem promising or appropriate material for a chamber musical, but it actually works – and it tells the story with more psychological depth than Patrick Hamilton’s play ‘Rope’ on the same subject, recently revived at the Almeida.

These two young men started getting their kicks from arson and robbery, but it wasn’t long before they concocted the ultimate crime of murder. The show tells the story as flashback from Leopold’s parole board hearing 34 years after imprisonment; this is a very clever idea. The attraction of Loeb to Leopold is clear from the outset but whether it is reciprocated is ambiguous, which adds to the intrigue of the story. Leopold’s true motivation isn’t revealed until the end.

Writer Stephen Dolginoff handles the psychological complexity very well, with the help of his own excellent score and lyrics. Simply but effectively staged by Guy Retalllack, in close proximity the two actors – Jye Frasca and George Maguire – convey all the manic intensity of their characters and their vocal performances are outstanding; their experience in musicals shows and pays off. Musical Director David Keefe plays the dense score on piano brilliantly.

With so much theatre-going, it’s amazing that I still manage to visit new venues like Tristan Bates Theatre; I think they need a publicist (or a better one, if they have one!) as this excellent show – which has taken a long time to come here after 50 productions in 4 other countries – hasn’t had anywhere as much publicity as it deserves. You have 2.5 more weeks to see what I mean…..

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