Thursday, 26 February 2015

Yarico @ The London Theatre Workshop

Yarico The London Theatre Workshop

You may not think model Jodie Kidd and her father John to be typical theatre producers, but with family ties to Barbados they have chosen to bring the anti-slavery narrative of Yarico to the London stage. The story is a compelling one: a British merchant, Thomas Inkle, is shipwrecked on an island where he is saved by an Amerindian woman, Yarico – the only member of her tribe to speak English thanks to her interest in Shakespeare. The two fall in love, but fate draws them apart as Yarico is sold into slavery in Barbados. Loosely based on a factual account from the seventeenth century, this musical adaptation has been ten years in the making, but suffers from an inconsistent tone.

It is a show of two halves. The first is overly pacey, cramming in far too much plot for what is, essentially, exposition for the events of the second half. For a story on slavery, there is a light-hearted feel to the events that feels a little jarring. Some comedy is welcome, but this feels like a swashbuckler pitched somewhere between Pirates of the Carribean and Pocahontas. It certainly has an epic, cinematic feel but it’s too big for the limited space of the London Theatre Workshop, most of which is taken up by the extensive percussion of the band.

Alex Spinney stands out early on for his performance as Inkle, offering a beautifully lyrical tenor, and Tori Allen-Martin is hilarious as Yarico’s tribe friend Nono. Yet the girl meets boy forbidden love story feels too familiar and the often comical plot is presented with a Hollywood-esque sheen. What’s needed is a greater grasp of the local ethnicity in both the music and the acting; the varying languages of the characters are cleverly depicted despite the whole cast speaking English, but it lacks authenticity.

Thankfully that comes in the second half. Here the narrative is altogether more intimate, with the focus on Yarico and her plight to free her fellow slaves. There is some spirited music, such as “Give Me My Name” and “Spirit Eternal” that allow for some wonderfully rousing ensemble harmonies and choreography to match the percussive music. This also allows the performers to settle further into their roles. Liberty Buckland eventually stands strong as the tragic Yarico, whilst Keisha Amponsa Banson provides plenty of tension as her rival Jessica, and Suzanne Ahmet proves vocally solid in a variety of roles.

There remain some missteps, however. For every authentic musical number there’s a Disney-esque ballad that undermines the raw grit of the central love story, whilst the slightly racial connotations of the song “Chocolate” (in which the characters sing of their love for the drink) are a little uncomfortable to watch. And whilst there remains some comedy, the second half tries too hard to educate its (entirely white) audience: “The Same And Not The Same” is accompanied by a public whipping of a black and a white character that’s heavy-handed. In trying to ensure the central message isn’t lost amongst romantic slush, the show becomes somewhat preoccupied with preaching - to an extent this is a black story dumbed down for a white audience, just as Yarico is presented reciting Shakespeare for her British owners.

Yarico is far from a finished product – the producers have admitted as such. There is clearly some work to be done, but even in its current state this is a promising production with some glorious ensemble singing, a talented cast and a raw love story at its core.


Watch: Yarico runs at the London Theatre Workshop until 14th March.



Sunday, 22 February 2015

La Traviata @ The Coliseum

ENO La Traviata The Coliseum

Usually, we attend the theatre to see what goes on behind the curtain. Yet in this revival of Peter Konwitschny's production of La Traviata, the action takes place in front of a series of red curtains, the significance of which is unclear. Despite a sharp colour scheme, there is little visual stimulation - at the start especially (before the curtains open to reveal a larger, empty space) it feels more like a semi-staged performance.

This does throw the performances into sharp relief, which are something of a mixed bag. Soprano Elizabeth Zharoff makes her UK debut as Violetta, though at first she's a little shrill and struggles with the angular coloratura of Act I. Her lumberjack costume in Act II is also wildly misjudged. Later, though, she exudes passion and sings with sumptuous control, becoming a tragic heroine who is easy to empathise with. Ben Johnson returns as Alfredo and offers a beautiful lyrical tenor, though the relationship between the two singers lacks chemistry. This is in part due to a stilted libretto translation and equally direction that often leaves the characters separated, with Johnson frequently singing from the audience. It is merely distracting.

Though there is some lovely singing from the secondary characters, there are too few ensemble opportunities for them to really excel. That is, except Anthony Michaels-Moore as Alfredo's father Giorgio who gives a solid powerhouse of a performance.

Then there's the chorus, who's laughable overacting negates any emotional resonance from the lead characters. There are simply too many of them: they overcrowd the limited stage space and conductor Roland Böer struggles to keep them singing together in time. The Brindisi at the start of the opera is one of its most famous tunes, but here it's incredibly wooden.

Thankfully it's not the only tune in what is Verdi's most popular opera and Böer conducts the glorious orchestra with aplomb. Cutting out the intervals and stripping the opera to the bare minimum (with a straight runtime of 1 hour 50) ensures this is a swift and concise production - not to mention requiring substantial vocal stamina from the singers - but visually it all feels a bit lacking. The music is wonderful but the drama is missing some emotional truth to really set off the tragic narrative.


Watch: La Traviata runs at the Coliseum until 13th March.

Friday, 20 February 2015

FKA Twigs @ The Roundhouse

FKA Twigs Congregata

FKA Twigs is something of an enigma. She’s a woman who speaks solely through her art. And at this one-off gig at the Roundhouse, she gave everyone a glimpse of her ritualistic world. For an hour and half time stood still and nothing else mattered.

Twigs is an artist known as much for her visuals as her music. Yet this wasn’t a gig full of screens, backdrops, props and elaborate costumes. The focus was on her as she sang and danced her way through the setlist in a contemporary and balletic display, accompanied by a group of male backing dancers and contortionists. Each song was its own narrative with its own effect or routine: the jerking movements and lustful connotations of Papi Pacify performed on a rotating stage; a cage of red lasers used for Video Girl; vogueing during Give Up; recreating the floating cloth performance for Two Weeks. Together they created an over-arching narrative she entitled ‘Congregata’, representing the coming together of her multiple artistic ideas within her career. Visually her performance paralleled the music: stark and minimalist yet laden with meaning.

The whole evening was an intensely sensual and erotic experience: the percussive production, the sweet fragility of her breathless voice, the dark sexuality at the heart of each track. Her slinky dance moves, highlighted in silhouette, accented every beat of the music as she stared intently over the audience who stood silently transfixed. Not once did her performance drop (until the very end when she introduced the band and dancers). The whole effect was utterly hypnotising.

What was perhaps most erotic about her performance was that this was the single vision of one woman. Despite all the provocative, boundary-pushing imagery of domination and sexual power play, it was Twigs herself who dominated every element of the show, the only woman on stage taking total control of her artistry. She laid her soul and her sexuality bare. And being a one-off performance, it was a real privilege to watch.

Really, it’s an impossible feat trying to capture this unique performance in words, a performance that left many members of the audience speechless. Ultimately Twigs is neither singer nor dancer, but a performance artist. She is in a class of her own. Outstanding.


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Elliphant @ XOYO

Elliphant XOYO

Elliphant bounds onto the stage, a ball of aggressive, masculine energy. She snarls, she spits out her lyrics, she eyeballs the audience, she grabs her crotch. In one of her videos she pisses in the street.

It’s the sort of behaviour you’d expect from a young American male rapper. But Elliphant, real name Ellinor Olovsdotter, is a white female rapper from Sweden. She’s rude, crude and provocative, but that’s all part of her, frankly terrifying, charm. She chews up and spits out the stage; resistance is futile. Even when she makes a mistake, she rewinds and starts again because she "wasn't feeling it" - she's Elliphant, she can do what she goddamn likes.

What’s somewhat jarring is hearing this white Swedish rapper with a Jamaican accent. That, alongside the constant barrage of crass language, almost feels like she’s a parody of Jamaican rap artists. Yet living in LA and frequently visiting Jamaica, she’s clearly surrounded herself with that culture. It comes naturally to her, making her far more authentic than Iggy Azalea.

Musically she’s heavily inspired by dancehall and reggae. Sharing the stage with her DJ, she raps over heavy beats and shuddering bass lines in thick Patois. If anything, she’s akin to a Swedish M.I.A or Santigold in her mix of electronic and world music influences, as well as her half-sung half-rapped vocal delivery. Alongside dirty, grinding tracks like Booty Killah and Look Like You Love It (both taken from her most recent EP, pictured), there are tracks like Down On Life and Live Till I Die that have a greater electronic slant and sing (shout) along choruses. She’s Swedish after all and isn’t afraid of a good hook. Then there’s All Or Nothing with production from Diplo and Only Getting Younger with Skrillex, which give an idea as to the hard, raw edge of her music. 

Occasionally her political views get in the way of her music. In one break between songs she raps about Save The Grey – nothing to do with that recent film, but her activism project. It’s a little intrusive and preachy when fans just want to see and hear her perform, but equally it’s refreshing to see an artist connecting with politics through their music. Elliphant represents the outsider and difference – her music is a loud, brash celebration of that, crotch grabs and all.

The best track of the night, though, is One More featuring Danish singer MØ (sadly not in attendance). The two artists share a punk attitude and pair together in total unison, but MØ’s inclusion brings more creative and interesting production than the usual dancehall beats. It makes you wish Elliphant would embrace her Scandi roots a little more (musically at least) rather than the faux-Jamaican style she’s adopted. Still, she’s a powerhouse performer who deserves to be globally recognised beyond the usual token rap feature on most records these days.


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Susanne Sundfør - Ten Love Songs

Susanne Sundfor Ten Love Songs

Memorial, at the half way mark of ‘Ten Love Songs’, is a ten minute ode to heartbreak that exemplifies Sundfør’s bizarre concoction of styles. What begins as a sombre curio turns into a stomping power ballad and then a Rachmaninov meets Mozart orchestral piano concerto with an expansive melody that Matt Bellamy would be proud of. It illustrates not only the change of styles between songs but within them too: the preceding Kamikaze turns an electronic disco track into a haunting harpsichord solo; the early folk sounds of Trust Me morph into widescreen moodiness.

This schizophrenic approach to musical style is perhaps indicative of the heartbreak at the core of the album. It might be called ‘Ten Love Songs’ but in Sundfør’s world, romance isn’t easy. Opening track Darlings laments the end of a relationship (“it’s written in the stars…everything must come to an end”), whilst the rest of the album lyrically descends into Fade Away, Silencer, Kamikaze, Memorial and Delirious. There’s plenty of anger here, from Accelerate’s “wars erupting like volcanoes” to “I told you not to come, my victim number one” on Delirious, both accompanied by angular, industrial synths. Equally there is futility in the lyrics of Darlings and Kamikaze, whilst the tragedy of Slowly is summed up in the lyric “we have different heartbeats but all the same heartbreak”. She covers all aspects of her subject: noir-ish brooding, hopeless pining and pure ecstasy.

Heartbreak breeds creativity, though, and ‘Ten Love Songs’ is incredibly inventive. Sundfør’s voice lilts with raw energy through each soaring pop melody, the production shifting beneath her from weeping chamber music to industrial disco. There are magnificent juxtapositions aplenty: the archaic organ and bubbling synth bass in Fade Away; the cosmic Silencer fading into the pulsing melancholy of Kamikaze; the sumptuously crystalline Slowly pairing steel drums with space-age synths and gradually modulating chords. It all amounts to an album of glorious synthy art pop with a flair for the cinematic and a heart-wrenching, relatable core. Sundfør is already huge in her native Norway and she deserves to be over here too.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Fade Away
* Kamikaze
* Slowly

Listen: 'Ten Love Songs' is available now.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

50 Shades Of Grey (2015) - Sam Taylor-Johnson

50 Shades Of Grey

It was a typical Saturday. I'd buried my head in Thomas Hardy novels, finished my shift at the hardware store and was off to the cinema with friends. I wouldn't be drinking of course, I'm boring like that. I'm not even sure why my friends put up with me. And so, decades old flip-phone in hand, I headed down the street to the cinema, running in my weirdly pointy Aladdin-style flat shoes, my poorly cut fringe plastered to my forehead.

We were about to watch a film called 50 Shades Of Grey. I'd never heard of it, because I'm really boring and far removed from popular culture. I still have a MySpace page you know. My friends were eager to see it so I tagged along. It's because I'm a really passive personality, incapable of making any sort of decision for myself. If only I had a partner to control me and tell me what to do 24 hours a day...

Anyway, we settled into our seats and the film began. It was pretty dull to begin with. Quite literally actually: the film director had taken the title to heart with the visuals. Being an average girl with average looks, average intelligence and zero personality, I really identified with the character of Ana. For instance, my friends are far more bubbly than I am and I too am incapable of walking through doorways without falling over. She even had my shitty flip phone and penchant for frumpy hand-me-down fashion!

But then there he was: Christian Grey. My eyes widened as I stared at the screen, my teeth involuntarily biting my lip. The crisp white shirt, the lightly curled hair, the grey eyes as grey and lifeless as everything else on the screen. My inner goddess was doing somersaults. It was if this Adonis of a man was staring right at me, no other person in the cinema existed. But why would this impossibly rich and handsome man who apparently does no work whatsoever but has somehow amassed a fortune and the most amazing flat I've ever seen be looking at me? I gnawed on my lip and gurned like a starving junkie. Not that I've done drugs. Did I tell you I'm boring?

And then there were the sex scenes. My friends told me there were less than in the book and some scene with a tampon had been removed. But it didn't matter to me. The mere sight of Christian removing his top was enough for me to feel the love balls between my thighs stirring in my panties. My inner goddess, meanwhile, was doing unspeakable things. Christian leered into the screen with those dark eyes, seemingly whispering straight in to my ear, and bit into a piece of toast with a ravenous hunger that reminded me of my own. I chewed my lip for good measure, the blood dribbling down my chin.

Being a virgin (boring), the idea of being dominated and spanked seemed new yet apparently perfectly normal to me and the sex scenes were nowhere near as erotic as the media has apparently made out (my friends are journalists, I'm too boring to read a newspaper). As Beyoncé purred the words to a song called Crazy In Love (I'd never heard it), Christian's whip cracked, there was a flash of glorious pubic hair and then he was thrusting. I felt myself flowering in my seat. I didn't care that Christian had no personality and the central couple made no sense. I didn't care that he was buying affection through improbable gifts (oh look a car!), even though a new phone would've been ideal. I didn't care that Christian had no issue touching up girls in front of his family (with one apparently famous girl in a silly wig and an incomprehensible accent). I didn't care that this was a highly unbelievable adult fairytale that my inner goddess would be wet dreaming about later. Pass me the contract, and I'd sign before you can say "red room of pain", preferably with a Grey-branded pencil I can suck on suggestively. It'd give my lip a break.

Towards the end it all got a bit dark. Christian confessed he was "fifty shades of fucked up" (my inner goddess suddenly realising what the title meant, the stupid cow) and his vulnerability finally revealed an ounce of personality. The film was a power play that, far from glorifying a BDSM relationship, was about an average girl changing a very troubled man for the better. The English literature student in me found this intensely deep and moving, whilst my inner goddess wanted Christian to move in deeply. The slut.

And then, in a dramatic climax it all ended as it began in a lift, leaving me gasping for more as I gave my bruised lips a final nibble like tasteless chewing gum. From now on I won't do romance. I've been enlightened. My tastes are very singular: Christian Grey.

Holy cow.

Miss Saigon @ Prince Edward Theatre

Miss Saigon Prince Edward Theatre

As a child, visiting the theatre in London was a big deal. The bustling city, the magnificent theatres, the epic stories to be told. It was special.

Now, as an adult, Miss Saigon brings back those feelings. It is a true piece of event theatre. In part that's due to the name (and that of the composers, Schönberg & Boublil of Les Mis fame), but also it's the grandeur of the Prince Edward theatre, the electric buzz of the audience, and the sheer amount of money and polish that's gone into the production.

In short, Miss Saigon has everything a musical should have.

Its plot, a retelling of Puccini's Madame Butterfly set in the Vietnam war, is an intense love story that teeters into melodrama yet somehow remains credible. Its lead characters are richly drawn and easy to root for. Its historical setting is detailed and believable in its tragic mix of east-meets-west. Its only flaw is that it's somewhat long-winded, but the lengthy running time whips by quickly enough.

The score, meanwhile, is Schönberg and Boublil's best - yes, it's better than Les Mis. It's got all the big tunes you'd expect: "The Movie In My Mind", "Why God Why?", "Last Night Of The World", "Bui Doi". The first half especially is just a string of hits, merging American showtunes, Asian romance and military marches. Yet for all its emotional bombast, it's the smaller touches that bring it to life: the mournful sound of a flute, the gentle plucking of a zither, the sumptuous vocal harmonies of the wedding scene. Gorgeous doesn't begin to cover it.

With music like this, simply performing the notes would be enough. But the cast go above and beyond. As the Engineer, Jon Jon Briones brings humour with a showstopping delivery of "The American Dream", whilst understudy Dale Evans has a richly lyrical tenor as Chris, silkily manoeuvring through difficult and consistently high melodies with ease. Tamsin Carroll also brings touching emotion to Ellen, the other woman. Eva Noblezada, though, is an absolute revelation as Kim. She balances the innocence and strength of the role, with an angelic voice of vulnerability and power. It is as if she is singing straight to your soul - no wonder her songs are frequently accompanied by sniffles in the audience.

Spectacle is just the icing on the cake. And it's not just the infamous helicopter, impressive as that is. Its the size of the sets, the precision of militaristic choreography, the stunningly designed backdrops, and even the simplicity of a song performed in spotlight. The amount of detail is astonishing, presented with cinematic flair (though screen imagery during "Bui Doi" feels a little heavy-handed). It's no wonder there's a film adaptation in the works.

And so it's clear: Miss Saigon is the best production currently on the West End. Yes, it's blockbuster entertainment, but it puts every other show into perspective. This is how musicals should be done.


Watch: Miss Saigon is booking until December 2015.

Friday, 13 February 2015

New Pop Roundup

Florence + The Machine – What Kind Of Man

Florence + The Machine What Kind Of Man

Florence + The Machine: The Hype Strikes Back. How do you follow up a majestic Brit-winning, Mercury nominated debut? With an overblown, bombastic sequel. And, after a four year hiatus, how do you follow that?

So far that remains to be seen. What Kind Of Man appears to be a slight change of sound: what begins as a haunting ballad with heavy vocal processing soon turns into a bitter and twisted rock track full of stabbing guitars. It’s the sort of track that harks back to the likes of Kiss With A Fist from ‘Lungs’, though it lacks the memorable, soaring melodies of her earlier work. Then there’s the contrasting introductory video for forthcoming album ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ that’s mostly a pretentious orchestral instrumental.

What these both have in common, though, is a great flair for the cinematic: the former a traumatic love story, the latter a dance with a mirror-self. So far, though, it seems more effort has been put into the visuals than the music.


Listen: What Kind Of Man is available now. ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ is released on 1st June.

Madeon – Pay No Mind (feat. Passion Pit)

Madeon Pay No Mind feat. Passion Pit

French boy-producer wonder Madeon wowed us all in 2012 with his track Icarus, blending colourful Daft Punk funk with neon whizzing synths and rhythmic sample manipulation. Three years on and his debut album has finally been announced, including this summery house-pop collaboration with Passion Pit. Released at the end of March, it should be an absolute joy.


Listen: Pay No Mind will feature on debut album ‘Adventure’ released on 30th March.

MKS – Back In The Day

MKS Back In The Day

Look, there are too many jokes to be made about this absolute shambles of a comeback. Flatline was brilliant but since then the girls’ return has, well, flatlined. Now another track has surfaced, Back In The Day, and as the name suggests it’s a retro 90s gospel ballad that features a sample of Ahmad’s 1994 track of the same name. Though it features some nice vocal harmonies, it’s too mellow to make much of an impact. Hopefully now, though, they’re back for good.


Listen: here.

Emile Haynie – Come Find Me (feat. Lykke Li, Romy)

Emile Haynie Come Find Me feat. Lykke Li, Romy

Haynie is probably best known for his work producing Lana Del Rey’s ‘Born To Die’ album and this track, taken from his own forthcoming debut, has a similarly downbeat and evocative feel with its lush strings and synths. Add in a wistful vocal from Lykke Li plus some gentle guitar from the xx’s Romy Madley Croft and the result is a meditative wonder.


Listen: Come Find Me will be included on Haynie’s debut album ‘We Fall’ released on 24th February.

Incubus – Absolution Calling

Incubus Absolution Calling

16 year old me was very excited to hear this. That said, Incubus’ career has slowly declined with each recent album and Absolution Calling is unlikely to prove their relevance, even if the title sounds more like a Muse track. It might be far removed from their funk-metal early days, but it’s a thumping and melodic alt-rock track that’s stadium and festival ready. Don’t dismiss them yet.


Listen: Absolution Calling is available now and will feature on a forthcoming EP, ‘Trust Fall (Side A)’, on 24th March.

Kwabs – Perfect Ruin

Kwabs Love + War

Kwabs has outdone Sam Smith with this new track, a raw and soulful ballad. His voice is beautiful as the melody soars in the chorus, accompanied by sombre piano, strings and a subtly pulsing beat. This is an artist full of surprises, even before his debut album is released in May, but Perfect Ruin is his strongest track to date. Gorgeous.


Listen: Debut album ‘Love + War’ is released in May.

Say Lou Lou – Nothing But A Heartbeat

Say Lou Lou Nothing But A Heartbeat

AT LONG LAST Swedish-Australian sister duo Say Lou Lou are releasing their debut album in April. Since they first came to attention with the beautifully dreamy Maybe You back in 2012, the girls have gone through a name change and a string of moody electronic tracks. Nothing But A Heartbeat veers more towards the electro-pop end of the spectrum, which should only ensure the album doesn’t get bogged down in a dirge of melancholy feeling.


Listen: Debut album ‘Lucid Dreaming’ is released on 6th April.

Marina And The Diamonds – I’m A Ruin

Marina And The Diamonds Froot

Another month, another new Marina track in the run up to ‘Froot’. I’m A Ruin is the strongest yet: a tantalising glimpse at the darker, electronic direction of the new album. Fittingly, the video features strong Madonna Frozen vibes. My hunger for some ‘Froot’ is growing every day.


Listen: ‘Froot’ is released on 6th April.

Prides – Higher Love

Prides Higher Love

Prides make an obvious comparison to Chvrches. Both bands are from Glasgow and both deliver synth-pop full of sing-along hooks and strong rhythms. Prides, though, are altogether more joyful and Higher Love is no exception. Synths fizz and beats clatter beneath a chorus ripe for live shows. The band are currently on tour and are likely to be a major draw at this year’s crop of summer festivals.


Listen: Higher Love is available now.

Charli XCX – Boom Clap

Charli XCX Sucker

Just for lolz, and to prove what a legend she is, here’s Charli XCX singing Boom Clap in Japanese.

Jekyll & Hyde @ Greenwich Theatre

Jekyll & Hyde Greenwich Theatre

It takes a lot to bring something new to the Jekyll and Hyde story, but that’s exactly what Sell A Door have done with this new adaptation from Jo Clifford. Set in a dystopian vision of 2022, this is a modern and relevant retelling that sees the doctor as a cancer specialist struggling under the weight of his scientific research and his inner demons.

As a trans woman, Clifford has a keen engagement with the themes of duality and transformation that permeate the narrative. There is a sense of Shakespearean grandeur to her script, that pairs Victoria language with modern influences, creating a heightened futuristic vision to match the poetry of Stephenson's novel. It is dense and thematically rich, but doesn’t always offer a lucid plotline. What eventually emerges is a parable for sexuality and accepting oneself, demons and all, though this only comes to the fore in the final moments. It is perhaps too sudden an ending, Clifford having trouble tying up each thematic thread.

There’s a great sense of theatricality to it all too, with plenty of asides to the audience and self-knowing humour – the actors seem acutely aware they’re performing, even if their initial introduction feels clunky. This allows for a meta-character in the form of Rowena Lennon playing a number of nameless female roles. It’s a clever way of injecting further multiple personalities into the production, though its implementation as a metaphor for the role of women in society feels a little overblown, especially in the final monologue.

Just as Jekyll must learn to accept his darker counterpart, this is a production that truly embraces the darker side of life. There’s an industrial, steampunk aesthetic to the set that’s complemented by a clattering, abstract, synthy soundtrack. As it rotates on the stage (perhaps symbolic of different sides of the same character), the cast slither, crawl and writhe in the darkness and the light, with stunningly stark lighting design from Charlie Morgan Jones. In the midst of it all is an outstanding performance from Nathan Ives-Moiba as Jekyll and Hyde. This is a visceral, physical performance as he transforms from one character to the next – Jekyll a well-spoken intellectual, Hyde a gruff beast of a man. Ives-Moiba is the star attraction in this deliciously sinister and often frightening production that brings gothic horror into the 21st century.


Watch: Jekyll & Hyde runs at the Greenwich Theatre until 14th February, before touring across the country.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown @ The Playhouse Theatre

Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown The Playhouse Theatre

It’s no wonder that, in 1988, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown became the international breakthrough hit for famed Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. It is quite possibly the most Almodóvar of Almodóvar films, establishing much of his cinematic style: the Spanish setting, the farcical humour, the bright colour scheme and, most of all, the focus on female characters.

This musical production based on the film is no different. A farcical melodrama involving a voiceover actress who is left by her married lover, it plays out on a stark white set filled with luminous block colours – like a Mondrian painting in theatrical form. Equally, much like the production itself, it feels a little sterile and lacks that typical Latin fire.

Indeed, Women feels about as Spanish as Mamma Mia is Greek. Aside from the opening number introducing us to 1987 Madrid, only the odd Spanish accent gives away the setting. There’s a lack of passionate chemistry between protagonist Pepa (Tamsin Greig) and her lover Ivan (Jérôme  Pradon); instead the focus is the titular women including Ivan’s mad wife Lucia (here understudy Rebecca McKinnis) and Pepa’s ditsy model friend Candela (another understudy, Marianne Benedict). The plot jumps between narrative strands without much development, as Pepa meets Ivan’s son and his fiancée, Lucia attempts to take Ivan to court, Candela sleeps with a known terrorist, and Ivan moves on to Lucia’s lawyer. Eventually, this disparate madness reaches a head by which point we still haven’t really got to grips with each character. Mostly, Ivan – the main source of each nervous breakdown – is rarely seen on stage and is ultimately a shallow, womanising Lothario. As such, we never really understand what is driving Pepa to the edge besides misplaced love.

The primary issue, though, is the score. As is often the case with film-to-musical adaptations, the music comes second to plot. Here it is perfunctory at best, lacking any sense of melody and simply cramming each musical line with text. Stylistically, it’s beige jazz-lite Latin lift Musak. Imagine listening to “The Girl from Ipanema” on repeat for two hours, a slowly shuffling concoction of light percussion and fluttering guitars. It’s only in the final a capella number, sung by the female characters in glorious harmony, that the music makes any impact at all. As a singing taxi driver, Ricardo Alfonso does offer some Spanish guitar and a wonderful tenor, but for the most part the score lacks any flamenco flair.

It’s down to Greig to hold the show together – and she does a brilliant job. Vocally she is not the strongest singer, but her comic timing is exceptional with a performance that delves into the emotional truth of the character in a cast otherwise filled with one-dimensional, if entertaining, caricatures. This farce amuses, but it’s more Costa del Thames than Costa del Sol.


Watch: Women runs at the Playhouse Theatre until May 2015.