Posts Tagged ‘Gwyneth Herbert’

The creator of London’s iconic street-finder is as good a subject for a musical as any and better done while we still know what the A-Z is! Staging a brand new musical though is a big risk, but here they’ve put together a lot of creative and performing talent, not least the man behind one of the Menier’s biggest hits, Sunday in the Park with George, Sam Buntrock and musicals stalwart Frances Ruffelle. Somewhat crucially though, the writer Diane Samuels, composer Gwyneth Herbert and leading lady Isy Suttie all have little musical theatre experience – and they seem to have had only two previews. This increases the risk significantly and for me it hasn’t paid off.

When you walk into the theatre you smile at the hundreds of items hanging from the roof – newspapers, suitcases, telephones, street-signs; it’s a lovely design by Klara Zieglerova. We’re told Mrs P’s story from her return to the UK sans husband, getting the idea for the A-Z, it’s development and launch through to its 20th anniversary when she effectively hands over ownership to her employees by setting up a trust. Alongside this we get the story of her relationship with her bullying father and alcoholic mother and their relationship with one another. Unfortunately, this tragic tale sits uncomfortably alongside an otherwise wistful story of an eccentric Brit.

There are other structural issues, notably a lack of clarity about where her father is – London or New York – at any given time and in the positioning of flashbacks to their earlier lives, which are sometimes confusing. The sondheimesque score has too few fully developed songs and lots of snatches and the lyrics are sometimes inaudible despite (or because of?) amplification. At 2h 30m it’s a touch overlong and it came close to losing me altogether before the interval and again before it ended.

Isy Suttie acts well and copes with the moderate vocal demands of her solo parts, but she struggles when she has to sing with others or raise the volume and impact, when she veers off key. The rest of the cast do a good job with their multiple roles and I particularly liked Stuart Matthew Price as her brother Tony and Sidney Livingstone as her right hand man. The band plays the score gently and is well balanced with the vocals.

I think the core issue is that it hasn’t had enough development, rehearsal or try-out. It just doesn’t feel ready to be put before a critical press, though I’m yet to know what they thought. Good idea, lots of talent and craftsmanship but it didn’t really work for me I’m afraid.

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