Saturday, 22 February 2014

Bel-Ami - London College of Music @ Charing Cross Theatre

Alex Loveless’ new musical Bel-Ami, performed by the students of the London College of Music, is a modern re-telling of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel of a journalist’s rise to power through the manipulation of a series of wealthy mistresses.  The novel was recently adapted for a film starring Robert Pattinson (clearly inspired by his heartthrob status), but for his adaptation Loveless seems to take inspiration from another theatrical source – the recent American Psycho musical.  Both feature electronic pop scores, robotic choreography, and a kinetic, technological feel.

The production needs to be slick and polished in order to pull off this style, something that Bel-Ami doesn’t quite achieve.  The narrative is ultimately clunky, comprising disparate scenes that don’t quite hang together into a believable plot.  There are some serious themes hovering in the background – is journalism just another war zone for this ex-soldier who fought in Afghanistan?  Is his rise to power any more dignified than the political celebrities he vilifies in his gossip column?  Who really holds the power in this battle of the sexes?  These are questions the show attempts to pose but it never quite strikes a chord.  What’s lacking is a solid dramatic thread, but unfortunately George’s lust for power doesn’t really come across amongst the loud music, bustling choreography and sometimes clichéd dialogue.

And that’s no fault of the actor.  It’s easy to see why Johnny Fitzharris has been cast as the charismatic, womanising protagonist, the audience immediately drawn to his stage presence and strong tenor vocals.  He’s supported by some excellent vocal performances from the female leads – the belting Tessa Leake (Victoria), the clipped Abigail Poulton (Madeleine) and the girlish Kathryn Kitchener (Suzanne).  The rest of the cast surely have fun performing a number of humorous cameos and deftly singing the contemporary, funky songs that work individually as pop numbers but rarely add depth to the narrative.  The cast also cope well with some technical hiccups, though as a whole the lighting often leaves the actors’ faces in the dark and the video screen backdrop feels static and underused compared to the enthusiasm of the performers.

Yet for all the issues of the show itself, the cast are full of energy with a handful of standout performers showing some post-college promise.


Watch: Bel-Ami runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until the 1st March.