Before the Night is Through*** (Landor Theatre, 19 February 2014)

Posted: February 20, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

If Agatha Christie and Ivor Novello had ever joined forces and then drawn inspiration from Cape Fear, the result could have been something like this show. Presented as part of the Landor’s From Page to Stage season, showcasing new musical theatre, it is a rollicking spoof of the whodunnit genre, set in 1935 on the remote island of Lost Crow during a spell of appalling weather, which sounds very much like that of February 2014. As British movie star Honey Quenelle (Amelia Adams-Pearce) is preparing for her Birthday party, news is filtering through that the local asylum is short of one lunatic. Conditions are so bad that the delivery from Fortnum’s cannot get through, but not bad enough to prevent the arrival of the guests, all of whom have good reason for wanting rid of the delectable Honey. This is a new show, but not one that attempts to extend the boundaries of musical theatre.! Rather it is one that retreats to the style as well as the setting of almost 80 years ago, with one-dimensional characters, a nonsense storyline, simple lyrics and hummable but quickly forgettable tunes. The costumes and set show excellent attention to period detail, the back wall being plastered with art deco posters for Quenelle’s films. A spoof of a genre that is already tongue-in-cheek can be difficult to pull off; it needs to be kept bubbling constantly and there are times when Olivia Thompson’s script becomes bogged down, relying much too heavily on one-line gags and not keeping the plot moving. Robert McWhir’s production also feels laboured on occasions, particularly during the show’s somewhat predictable first half. Just before the interval comes what could be one of the show’s best ensemble numbers, Just Like in the Movies, but it is rather unfortunate that it coincides with a plot development calling for a power cut and we see it only in half light. After the interval comes a spell when the show seems to have gone completely off the rails, but, happily, this marks a turn in the right direction, leading to a second half of outright barminess, some of which is so funny that no-one cares how ridiculous the denouement is. This success is largely due to a splendid company, all hamming exuberantly. There are two stand out-comic performances. Playing Mabel Gumm (not alluding to Judy Garland surely?), the dim-witted maid, Katie Brennan makes the most of the script’s funniest lines, searching for her lost gerbil and offering up delicacies such as pork cake and parsnip sponge. And then there is Jenny Gayner, who goes completely over the top, stealing the show as party guest Farmonica Fagarretty, a star-struck nervous wreck; her outrageous rendition of Sorry will linger in the memory long after everything else in this evening is forgotten. In all, Before the Night is Through is a mixed bag, a production that would need quite a lot of work to take it to the next level, but the Landor’s current season is all about such shows. It is interesting to have the chance to glimpse possible musical theatre talent of the future and, if we get a jolly evening of undemanding fun in the process, who’s complaining?

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