Monday, 17 September 2018

Troye Sivan - Bloom

Troye Sivan - Bloom

Earlier this year, Troye Sivan provided a track for the soundtrack to queer coming-of-age film Love, Simon. Strawberries and Cigarettes is a real standout, but it also marked Sivan's increasing pop stardom alongside collaborations with Ariana Grande, plus mainstream media coverage and a primetime performance on SNL.

It's a fitting inclusion, too, with this second album being something of his own coming-of-age. He is, quite literally, blooming into adulthood and fame.

Everything about 'Bloom' is more self-assured than his 2015 debut 'Blue Neighbourhood'. The songwriting is more confident, the production more polished. The up-tempo tracks are more jubilant and buoyant, the ballads more openly raw. And it's more...well...gay.

Sivan is perhaps a reluctant queer hero, but 'Bloom' is an out and proud celebration of queer love. Who else could deliver such an unashamed moment of exultant pop as My My My! complete with 80s-tinged Madonna-aping sexually fluid video? Who else could release a cute synth pop song - also the name of the album - that's actually all about bottoming?

More so, the album covers so many aspects of gay romance. Opener Seventeen details the excitement and naivety of exploring sexuality for the first time; later on What A Heavenly Way To Die Sivan imagines life with a partner years in the future. In between, there's the joy and addiction of new love, the uncertainty of a relationship coming to an end, the difficulty that ensues, and then on closer Animal a 4:25 slow-burning profession of love.

Coming from Sivan, 'Bloom' is inherently queer, but its themes are universal. Indeed on Dance To This the worlds of homosexuality and heterosexuality collide as both he and Ariana Grande (an astute collaboration with this year's number one popstar) profess their desires to stay at home and "just dance to this". Sivan is open about his sexuality almost to the point of banality - it's important but it's everyday, it's noted but in the simple and palatable context of a really good pop song.

'Bloom' has plenty of them. The chorus of My My My! is a rush that tingles through every inch of the body, while the soft synth pads and sharp snare beat of Bloom create the perfect blend of hard and soft. Plum follows suit with an extended metaphor and vibrant production masking a more melancholic feeling, while Lucky Strike plays with gendered language over its gently pulsing electronica. When the album slows it relishes in emotion - Animal in particular, with its sparse Frank Ocean-esque production, is a delicious end to the album.

And so 'Bloom' marks a turning point in the career of Troye Sivan. A queer artist thrust into the mainstream, sexuality on his sleeve and a collection of outstanding pop songs under his belt. This is the sound of an artist growing in sexual and musical confidence, blooming into himself.

5/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* My My My!
* Bloom
* Plum

Listen: 'Bloom' is out now.





Saturday, 15 September 2018

New Music Friday 14/09

Lana Del Rey - Mariners Apartment Complex

Lana Del Rey - Mariners Apartment Complex

Lana Del Rey songs tend to go one of two ways: edgy and interesting, or kind of dull. This track, taken from her forthcoming sixth album, is more of the latter. It's got the usual morose, ennui-soaked delivery but it's a more straightforward ballad than we're used to, despite the gender reversal twist of its chorus lyric "I'm your man". Jack Antonoff's production is easy to get lost in, but it needs more of that delicious mix of hard and soft that makes her music so alluring.

Worth a listen.



The 1975 - Sincerity Is Scary

The 1975 - Sincerity Is Scary

The return of one of the biggest bands in the world has so far been very disappointing. Sincerity Is Scary certainly has more melody than the last two singles and its production has more genre-defying interest with its fragments and samples of horns, clipped beats and lazy basslines. Lyrically, though, it's a self-referential stream of consciousness that doesn't really amount to much. Gone are the succinct pop-rock songs of the past - now the band seem lost in their own ideas.

Worth a listen.



James Hype feat. Craig David - No Drama

James Hype feat. Craig David - No Drama

I realise this dancehall flavoured track is a basic bop, but there's something fun and addictive about it, you know?

Worth a listen.



LANY - Thick And Thin

LANY - Thick And Thin

Initially luxurious, LANY's music soon wears thin with its repetitive sounds. Thick And Thin is LANY through and through with its smooth synth lines and light funk guitars, but that punchy snare drum makes it all worth it this time.

Worth a listen.



Mariah Carey - GTFO

Mariah Carey - GTFO

Mariah Carey's career is just one meme-worthy moment after another. This is no exception. Incredible stuff.

Worth a listen.



David Guetta, Bebe Rexha, J Balvin - Say My Name

David Guetta, Bebe Rexha, J Balvin - Say My Name

Guetta's seventh album, imaginatively titled '7', is out now and features all the terrible collaborations and tired EDM pop you could expect. It's typified by Say My Name: grating vocalist awaiting a big break, tie in with a Latin artist to seem relevant, structure around a non-chorus that doesn't go anywhere. The second half of the album centres on what Guetta does best: DJing. If only he'd stick to that and stop trying to be a popstar.

Don't bother.



Tom Aspaul - Going Down

Tom Aspaul - Going Down

Aspaul's career still hasn't quite taken off since his brilliant Indiana was taken by Kylie Minogue for Feels So Good. But Going Down proves he knows how to write a decent pop song. Uptempo, buoyant, 90s vibes mask the downbeat lyrics of a world falling apart - a fun bop with a dark interior.

Worth a listen.



Friday, 14 September 2018

Losing Venice @ The Orange Tree Theatre


Losing Venice @ The Orange Tree Theatre

“But this country. This country we so dearly love, is she admired? She used to be. She used to be great, used to be respected, used to be feared. But now what part do we play in the world?”

This quote could conceivably be a present day comment on the state of our nation. Instead it’s taken from this revival of Jo Clifford’s 1985 play Losing Venice. Set in the Spanish Golden Age of the 17th century, it explores issues of gender, masculinity and the downfall of a nation – performed in 2018 it is bizarrely prophetic.

The narrative centres on a Spanish Duke (Tim Delap) and his poet Quevado (Christopher Logan). Following his marriage, the Duke grows restless and weary of his new wife (Florence Roberts) and so, through a desperate desire to prove himself, sets out to take over Venice from the Italians. But playing with timeframes, director Paul Miller and designer Jess Curtis blur the lines between historically accurate costumes and a vivid, 80s punk sensibility that lends the production a rebellious and disruptive spirit. That continues with Terry Davies’ music that uses both electric guitar and mandolin.

The first half offers an intriguing exploration of gender, through some witty dialogue and amusing double entendres. As a critique of masculinity it works – pathetic, gullible and inadequate - though its female characters seem thinly drawn by comparison. More intriguing still is that Clifford’s experience as a transgender woman has over time surely coloured the play’s gender politics.

In the second half, though, the production doesn’t just lose Venice but the audience too. On arriving in the Italian city, the characters embark on a surreal journey through sewers and dark candlelit hallways, led my mysterious religious figures. It’s just not clear what it all represents, meaning the initial battle of the sexes soon falls apart.

It remains, though, an engaging watch. The unique aesthetic and strong performances do somewhat pull it all together – Delap’s crotch thrusting Duke is a tumbling pillar of masculinity, Logan flaps amusingly as the poet, and Eleanor Fanyinka gives a more grounded performance as servant Maria. But we’re ultimately left in the lurch – which is another fitting and prescient parallel to today’s political indecisions.

3/5

Watch: Losing Venice runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 20th October.

Losing Venice @ The Orange Tree Theatre
Photos: Helen Maybanks

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Janelle Monáe @ The Roundhouse



Three albums in and Janelle Monáe is still not quite the megastar she deserves to be. Critical darling, sure, but commercially she’s still yet to have a real hit (besides her feature on fun.’s We Are Young) and current album ‘Dirty Computer’ is nowhere to be seen in the charts either in the UK or her native US.

Watch her live, though, and it’s a different story. As a performer she is nothing short of phenomenal, making that lack of commercial success all the more criminal. Not that the hordes of fans at the Roundhouse would care, enraptured as we all were.

There is literally nothing that Monáe can’t do. As a singer her vocal is powerful, impassioned and agile; as a dancer her movement across the stage is every bit the electric lady. Her energy is boundless, offering a vibrant and ecstatic display of showmanship, her personality as vibrant as the colours of her outfits, the staging and the psychedelic screen images that form her backdrop.

And she flits through genres with ease. Songs from ‘Dirty Computer’ of course dominate, but throughout the night she deftly switches from the electro-funk of Crazy, Classic, Life and Screwed, to the sweet pop of Pynk, the futuristic RnB of I Got The Juice, the sultry I Like That and Primetime, before moving to the modern funk Big Band style of Tightrope from her first album. And that voice dips into fierce rap on the likes of Django Jane and Q.U.E.E.N, the audience hanging on every word. Only oddball single Yoga stood out as a tacky pop song, no matter how ironic its lyrics.

Monáe is, in many ways, the lovechild of Prince, Michael and Janet Jackson. She has the funk and sexuality of the former, the vocal inflections, stage-command and charisma of Michael, and the military costumes and precision silhouetted choreography of the latter. A short reference to Purple Rain provided a welcome tribute.

Yet to simply compare her to her influences would be a disservice. Monáe is so much more than that. This is a queer black woman empowering her audience with her music. “Say it loud, I’m dirty and proud,” she has the audience shouting early on, the whole theme of the gig equality and self-love, encouraging us to fight for our rights and fight for love. Her pop music is politically charged, from the cheeky feminist symbolism of Pynk, to the state-of-the-nation song Screwed that has her performing in front of riot images. “Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable,” she demands.

But it’s all delivered with a sense of fun and humour. “Let the vagina have a monologue,” she quips on Django Jane, before emerging in vagina-shaped trousers for Pynk. Later she swigs from a bottle of wine while singing Don’t Judge Me. Her cyborg persona, Cindy Mayweather, may be a political machine, but Monáe herself is a relatable figure beneath the stardom.

And she gives us everything. By the end of her relentless, tireless performance she has literally stripped off before launching herself into the audience for a crowd surf. She spends much of the performance in a military-themed jacket and hat, every bit the ringleader, a queen on her throne, and we are her willing subjects as she preaches her gospel of love. She is, in her own words, “black girl magic” and we are well and truly caught under her spell. Who needs commercial success when you can change the world?


5/5

Friday, 31 August 2018

Fun Home @ The Young Vic

Fun Home @ The Young Vic

The beautiful Fun Home might not be the musical we deserve, but it's the musical we need. In many ways it serves as a powerful warning to promote the importance of mental health, in the LGBT community especially.

This is the musical's first appearance in the UK since winning five Tony Awards on Broadway when it opened in 2015. With music from Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics from Lisa Kron, it's based on a graphic novel from Alison Bechdel that explores both her own sexuality and that of her father who tragically commits suicide.

The narrative is presented as a series of fragmented memories, the adult Alison (Kaisa Hammarlund) looking back on her life to answer the questions around her father's death. The show's central theme is that of grief, Alison searching through faded memories to create a comic strip of her relationship with her father as a method of coping. That she draws comics is significant - not only in a reference to Bechdel's graphic novel, but in that they often use humour to cover a deeply serious message.

Fun Home, as the title suggests, does the same. Up-tempo songs and moments of sweet comedy cover up what is a dysfunctional family. Gradually the narrative layers with tension as we await the inevitable crushing conclusion where this family life comes crumbling down.

It's also the parallel story of two people coming out - Alison and her father Bruce (Zubin Varla) - and the differences in how they cope. Alison's story is told in three parts: as an adult, a child (Harriet Turnbull/Brooke Haynes) and as a teen in college (Eleanor Kane). We see her development from innocence and naivety, to wise cynicism with clear consistency of character. It's Kane's depiction, though, that's most compelling, initial insecurity making way for the sheer glee of finding herself before the shocking revelation of her father's sexuality drags her down.

Bruce's coming out is far more painful. Here is a man who absolutely struggles with his sense of self, closeted and only exploring his sexuality in the seediness of night. More so, he overcompensates through his busy work and interests in art, imposing his views upon his daughter and living vicariously through her. He is somewhat painted as a typically troubled homosexual with shades of paedophilia, but the focus is the relationship with his daughter, equally fractured and loving. There are parallels and dissonances between them at all stages in Alison's life, early stages filled with small touches that cleverly only make sense later on.

There's also the devastating subplot of Helen Bechdel (Jenna Russell), Bruce's wife who knows full well that he's a homosexual but is powerless to change her life. Her warning to Alison about her father - a scene of crushing honesty when he himself is incapable - is perhaps the most heart-wrenching moment in a show that's full of them, owing to Russell's subtle and relatable performance.

Tesori's music is perhaps a little unremarkable. The contemporary chamber music score is full of catchy upbeat tunes and gently mournful string and clarinet melodies, but its purpose is always to serve the intimacy of the drama and not to stop the show. In that sense, the music is very much woven into the fabric of the narrative, songs used as inner monologues.

That's important in a show about mental health. In some ways, it reflects a cheery side to tragedy, but the writing is exceptionally relatable. There's the rush of thoughts with the excitement of coming out. There's the pleading to speak when no words will come. And there's the sensitivity to stop words altogether when they seem impossible, feelings left unspoken.

There are so many layers to the domestic drama of Fun Home. It is an outstanding musical of human empathy, tugging on the heart strings in the most earnest, raw way. You cannot fail to be touched.

5/5

Watch: Fun Home runs at The Young Vic theatre until 1st September.

Fun Home @ The Young Vic

Saturday, 25 August 2018

New Music Friday 24/08

Disclosure - Funky Sensation (feat. Gwen McCrae)

Disclosure - Funky Sensation (feat. Gwen McCrae)

All week dance duo Disclosure have been releasing a track a day, putting their own spin on some classics. Funky Sensation twists Gwen McCrae's 1981 disco original by ramping up the tempo, chopping up the funk and injecting a new level of cool.

Worth a listen.



Jason Derulo & David Guetta - Goodbye (feat. Nicki Minaj & Willy William)

 Jason Derulo & David Guetta - Goodbye (feat. Nicki Minaj & Willy William)

Guetta has just announced the release of his seventh album next month and it's called, imaginatively, '7'. To celebrate there's a new track featuring Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj and Willy William rapping and singing along to Sara Brightman and Andrea Bocelli's Time To Say Goodbye. It is bizarre to say the least...

Don't bother.



Bring Me The Horizon - MANTRA

Bring Me The Horizon - MANTRA

The Sheffield rock band have released this new single just in time for Reading & Leeds Festival this weekend - they're doing a secret set for those looking at the line-up. Expect this track to sound pretty awesome cranked up to full volume: it's the band's hardest sounding track, but it's no less catchy and melodic.

Worth a listen.



Kiiara - Gloe

Kiiara - Gloe

Breakout hit Gold - with its stark, Lord-esque production - is still Kiiara's best known work. But this year she's already released the catchy Messy and with Gloe she's leaning towards the darkly seductive. "I'ma swallow all these diamonds, never spit 'em out," she sings in the chorus, "thinkin' 'bout how, how you taste now." Written by Natalia Kills, it's a heady concoction of lip-smacking sexual fetish and trap production delivered with breathless fervour.

Worth a listen.



Nick Jonas vs Robin Schulz - Right Now

Nick Jonas vs Robin Schulz - Right Now

Pop music doesn't get more basic than this. Male singer struggling to find his own sound meets generic EDM producer. That Eurodance chorus is kind of catchy, but nobody will remember it in a few months time.

Worth a listen.



Thursday, 23 August 2018

Ariana Grande - Sweetener

Ariana Grande - Sweetener

'Sweetener' is one of, if not the most anticipated pop album of the year. This is the latest (fourth) album from pop's newest diva and the comeback of Grande after the devastating terrorist attack that took place at her concert in Manchester in 2017.

That anticipation has been spurred on by the unquestionably brilliant lead single no tears left to cry, a euphoric pop track that epitomises the need to lose yourself in music in the face of adversity. "I'm lovin', I'm livin', I'm pickin' it up," she repeats breathlessly over synth stabs and a playful, skipping beat. It's the perfect message to her young fans, especially those affected by Manchester.

And yet, the end product of 'Sweetener' is almost crushingly disappointing. Where each of her previous albums has seen her grow as an artist, here she takes the lead on songwriting but stagnates sonically, pushing into a more futuristic direction yet holding on to the same old collaborators.

Opening track raindrops (an angel cried) is a beautiful a capella opening that immediately showcases Grande's sumptuous vocals. It's taken from a song written by Bob Gaudio and performed by the Four Seasons - a song she apparently had in her head one day in the studio. And it sums up much of 'Sweetener': a beautifully sung insight into Grande as an artist that nevertheless relies too much on others.

While the production - predominantly from the Swedish team of Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh - is impeccably polished, the album as a whole feels lazy. Melodies are monotonous and half-rapped, failing to make the most of Grande's voice. Pharrell Williams crops up on boring second track blazed - an obvious choice of collaborator who fails to excite, and whose minimalist, funk R&B informs multiple tracks. Later there's goodnight n go that's heavily inspired by Imogen Heap's song of the same name, a sweet ode to a favourite artist that's too indebted to the original.

The inclusion of Williams is one of a handful of half-arsed features. Nicki Minaj arrives for yet another duet on the light is coming for one quick forgettable verse that's swept aside by the incessant beat. And Missy Elliott is similarly wasted on borderline with a stuttering rap that's totally phoned in.

That's not to say there isn't some intelligent pop here. Aside from no tears left to cry, God is a woman is a real highlight: a feminist sex anthem that blends trap, gospel and celestial harmonies into one heavenly, sensual mix. On the addictive everytime she juxtaposes Drake-inspired production with cutesy lyrics of love like "something out of Shakespeare" that has her weak "like a teenager"; it's followed by breathin that seems to have literally lifted the beat from Drake's Hold On, We're Going Home but soars with its keytar solo in the middle eight.

The title track, meanwhile, is a sugary confection full of eye-rolling double entendres like "I like the way you lick the bowl", while the equally syrupy successful sees her reflecting on how it feels to be "so young and have this fun and be successful." 'Sweetener' is at times a stunning pop album, but it's also formulaic and saccharine, just too inconsistent to leave a satisfying taste in the mouth. "I'm so successful," she notes with a knowing wink. Commercially, perhaps, but this album is far from her best work.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* God is a woman
* everyime
* no tears left to cry

Listen: 'Sweetener' is out now.




Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Onegin and Tatiana @ The Arcola Theatre


The idea of fiction and reality is a key theme of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Take for instance the moment Tatiana visits Onegin’s mansion and questions his character, an amalgam of literary heroes.

This newly devised piece from director Guido Martin-Brandis is based predominantly on Tchaikovsky’s opera, but like Onegin it is a fabrication of personas – here musical heroes. The plot is reduced to its central couple of Onegin and Tatiana, narrated in English by Joan Plunkett to drive the story with clarity for the audience. Musical pieces are then taken from both Tchaikovsky and a number of later composers – Mahler, Debussy, Strauss and Rachmaninov – which add depth to the characterisation and some musical variety. It is a well-constructed opera that offers Pushkin’s story in miniature: an intense and melodramatic portrayal of unrequited love between an arrogant dandy and a shy landowner’s daughter.

The production’s main gimmick, though, is that of projection. Director Martin-Brandis cites, in his programme notes, his interest in psychological projection – in particular positive projection where characters are upheld as a paragon of goodness in an almost spiritual manner. Here, this manifests as literal projection on the back wall to reflect the inner-psychology of the characters; the choice of composers, too, are direct contemporaries of Freud and Jung and were influenced by the psychologically suggestive poems and novels of the time.

The idea of projection is an intriguing one, but in practice it is an inelegant solution to surtitles. Three overhead projectors are utilised, with images, poetry and the libretto adding setting and literary context to the songs (sung in their varying native languages: Russian, German and French). This requires the narrator to frequently and distractingly switch the projectors on and off to, essentially, turn the page of the libretto. At times there are clever parallels drawn through the choice of images, and letters written by characters are blown up for all to see. That is, when they can be read – the projections are often too small for the full audience to view. A more polished production is required here to not only offer surtitles to the audience, but to really dig into the psychology of these characters as Martin-Brandis so keenly wishes to.

The musical choices are also predominantly solos as we follow the thoughts of each character. This is very much about the Romantic idea of individuals wrestling with their feelings as opposed to a couple drawn together through fierce chemistry, magnetic attraction and sexual desire. The climax of the piece is a duet where these feelings eventually spill out of their heads through their words, but the structure overall doesn’t allow for a development of their relationship.

But then, this is a more abstract portrayal of psychology than a true depiction of a passionate relationship – with some beautiful music to boot. There is fine dramatic singing here from both Isolde Roxby (Tatiana) and Nicolas Dwyer (Onegin), who expertly navigate a mixture of languages and composers to create consistent characterisation. Pianist Richard Hall is also excellent, ensuring this production is a delight to listen to.

3/5

Watch: Onegin and Tatiana was performed at the Arcola Theatre as part of the Grimeborn Opera Festival.

Onegin and Tatiana @ The Arcola Theatre

Onegin and Tatiana @ The Arcola Theatre

Saturday, 11 August 2018

New Music Friday 10/08

Nina Nesbitt - Loyal To Me

Nina Nesbitt - Loyal To Me

Nesbitt has been slowly building up a collection of pop bops, miles away from her folky beginnings. Loyal To Me is the most pop of the lot, hailed as a return to the 90s with its staccato beats and guitar hooks. In reality, it's an above average Meghan Trainor song that's only top of NMF because it's an otherwise disappointing week.

Worth a listen.



Troye Sivan - Animal

Troye Sivan - Animal

Sivan's second album 'Bloom' is due out at the end of the month and the drip-feed release of singles is making the wait unbearable. Animal is an atmospheric jam - in his own words an "80s stadium love song" - that juxtaposes clipped beats and sparse production with the sexually charged chorus lyric "I am an animal with you." There are strong Frank Ocean vibes here too, suggesting 'Bloom' will comprise the full gamut of queer influences.

Add to playlist.



RAY BLK - Run Run

RAY BLK - Run Run

The lyrics of Run Run comprise real stories of London life, highlighting gun and knife crime in the capital. "Run, run if you wanna see the sun / We don't wanna lose another one," she sings in the chorus, though whether that's running for your life or from the police is ambiguous. All that over an addictive syncopated beat for a sound that's straddles underground and mainstream tastes.

Worth a listen.



Broods - Peach

Broods - Peach

The NZ sibling duo are back with a new song and a new sound. The synths and vocal ennui remain, but this is an altogether more buoyant, upbeat and positive single than the...well...brooding sound of their debut. They've now signed to Neon Gold/Atlantic, so we can perhaps expect a push for the mainstream - things are looking pretty peach indeed.

Worth a listen.



RÜFÜS DU SOL - Underwater

RÜFÜS DU SOL - Underwater

This is the sort of song you just get lost in. Fusing euphoric house and indie rock, the Sydney trio's new single pulses with liquid synths and driving beats that wash over and take control, held together by a lofty chant-like vocal sample. The group's new album is due out later this year and is definitely one to keep an ear out for.

Add to playlist.



Jake Shears - Clothes Off

Jake Shears - Clothes Off

This is taken from Shears' new album as a solo artist, though you'd be forgiven for assuming it's just another Scissor Sisters record. Squelching, scuzzy bass, funk guitars and that wild falsetto predominate, ensuring this slice of 70s throwback disco-glam will please fans of his previous material.

Worth a listen.



Cher - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

Cher - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

You can debate all you want whether certain soundtracks deserve to be in the album charts (goodbye 'The Greatest Showman'), but you cannot deny that Cher covering ABBA after her appearance in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the campest most brilliant thing to happen. Ever.

Add to playlist.



Friday, 3 August 2018

Broken Wings @ Theatre Royal Haymarket

Broken Wings @ Theatre Royal Haymarket

The work of Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet, is known for its themes of universal love. His poetic novel of 1912 Broken Wings may be set in Beirut and details the forbidden love between a poet and a young woman betrothed to another through arranged marriage, but his illustrative descriptions of romantic longing are relatable to us all. If Gibran is the Shakespeare of the Middle East, then Broken Wings is his Romeo and Juliet – a relatively simple love story that’s ripe for reinterpretation.

And yet, while Broken Wings has been adapted to the stage and screen before, this production from Nadim Naaman and Dad Al Fardan marks the first reworking as a musical. It also marks an original Middle Eastern musical performed on the West End, produced and performed by a majority Middle Eastern cast and crew, and for simply offering something different Broken Wings deserves to be seen.

Paralleling Gibran (and named after himself), the lead character is a poet who returns to his native Beirut after years abroad in America. There he rediscovers his home, reconnects with old friends, and meets Selma – the daughter of his father’s best friend who treats him as his own son. Gibran and Selma soon fall in love, but their love is forbidden once Selma is set to marry the seedy nephew of the local bishop.

The story itself, no doubt progressive at the time and particularly so for its feminist themes, feels a little rote today. Gibran, played by Nadim Naaman and Rob Houchen as both an older and younger man, is a typical brooding Romantic tied to his books (though both men sing in impressively rich tenors), while Irvine Iqbal’s evil Bishop Bulos Galib and Sami Lamine’s sleazy playboy Mansour Bey Galib feel like pantomime villains. As Selma, Nikita Johal displays the necessary fragility of a young woman caught between her desires and the duty of marriage, but her voice reveals great inner strength during the musical numbers. The remaining periphery cast are sadly underwritten and the lengthy plot eventually winds up at a predictable end.

What this adaptation does retain, though, is the strength of Gibran’s writing. The book brims with beautiful poetry that, along with Mira Abad’s simple yet effective set design and Nik Corrall’s costumes, depict turn of the century Beirut as a place of warmth and beauty yet held back by tradition.

Arguably, the adaptation is a little too strict with Gibran’s words. Each song is essentially a soliloquy with little repetition in its lyrics, denying the audience a hook to hold on to. The show is at its best during the full ensemble numbers led by Soophia Foroughi as Mother where we finally get a tune and some rousing singing – the impact is stunning. Elsewhere, Fardan and Naaman’s score is a beautiful mix of East meets West that’s overwhelmingly melancholic. Though performed on Western instruments, many of the melodies are distinctly Arabic with the hammered dulcimer the only Arabic instrument – more of this would have been welcome.

There’s no denying the heart of this production, but it is a melodramatic work of sweeping emotion and sentimentality, each song exhaustingly performed with head to the sky and arms aloft. It’s all too easy, though, to be swept up in that emotion, in the operatic grandeur of it all. It might be lacking a lightness of touch, but the story and the new music have a timeless and universal appeal that’s in-keeping with Gibran himself.

3/5

Watch: Broken Wings runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 4th August.


Broken Wings @ Theatre Royal Haymarket
 Photos: Marc Brenner